In Brief: Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson, (Crown), 448 pages, release date 10 March, 2015

At one time, I had a friend whose mother had fled Nazi Germany and traveled by steamer to the U.S. Apparently, a particularly eerie part of that ocean voyage was passing locations where other ships had been sunk. The vessels were gone, but she would see a scattering of goods on the ocean’s surface—a chair, a doll—that briefly and poignantly told the story of what had transpired. I never heard the story directly from my friend’s mother, so I don’t know how much of the version I got was apocryphal, but the image has stuck with me.

Erik Larson’s Dead Wake tells the story of one such ship in engaging detail. One knows from the start how this story will end, but that knowledge makes the reading more compelling, rather than less.

For the most part, Larson’s writing is solid. There’s an odd leitmotif of the color pink running through Dead Wake, which seems strange—why pink? why does/did this color stand out to Larson?—but that peccadillo doesn’t detract from the narrative. When you’re looking for an engaging work of nonfiction that is emotionally, as well as intellectually, engaging, Dead Wake will serve you well.

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