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Saturday, March 18, 2017

What's Next, Erik?

Each time I finish a book by Erik Larson, my first thought is "What will he write about next?" Which non-fiction authors captivate you like that?

"Dead Wake: The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania" (2015) - like all of Larson's books I've read - is compelling first page to last. This author's narrative gift is so strong that even though I knew how the story would end, I was never out of its grip. The telling details Larson chose from the mountain of books cited in his bibliography were - as always - nearly perfect. For example, early in the account he describes two young girls who ask - on day two of the fateful seven day journey - if they can help a seaman paint the underside of one of the lifeboats. Then, after the Lusitania goes down, Larson returns to one of the girls - fifteen year old Gwendolyn Allan -  as her lifeless body is brought onto a rescue vessel. Of the 1198 casualties, the bodies of more than 600 people - unlike Gwendolyn's - were never recovered.

Two revered historical figures - Winston Churchill, First Lord Of Great Britain's Admiralty at forty years old, and Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. President in 1915 - don't shine brightly in Larson's book.   Among numerous missteps the author cites, the most galling for me was Wilson's insensitive chirping to his soon-to-be second wife: "I have just put the final touches on our note to Germany and now turn - with what joy! - to talk to you. I am sure you have been by my side all evening for a strange sense of peace and love has been on me as I worked." The note Wilson was referring to - the preface for the mush to his future bride - was itself a mild rebuke to Germany. Considering 123 American lives had just been lost four days before, Wilson's tone deafness here is staggering. And bad as that is, some of Churchill's political shenanigans at the time were more reprehensible.

For those of you who have read "Dead Wake", let's talk, OK? If you haven't, put this one on your list. You won't be sorry.      

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