I'm glad I knew virtually nothing about the Lusitania until I was an adult. If someone had told me about it when I was a kid, that knowledge, combined with being allowed to see "Jaws" at age 7 would have driven me on an insane quest to fill the oceans with concrete.
Turns out, even though I thought I knew a little about the Lusitania and its role in propelling the U.S. into WWI, I was wrong. I knew nothing about what had actually happened.
The Lusitania was the fastest ship of its day with the latest technology on board. After the Titanic disaster, it was also fitted with more than enough lifeboats.
On 1May, 1915 it set sail from New York to Liverpool, the passenger list was a who's who of actors, rich businessmen and socialites. Despite the festive atmosphere on board, tensions were high under the surface. The UK was embroiled in WWI, which would cost the lives of millions of Europeans. English ships were being sunk at an alarming rate by German submarines, who didn't seem to care if there were civilians on board or not. For the German captains, it was all about the tonnage, if they could prove to their superiors that they had sunk a certain amount of tonnage, they'd be up for medals and promotions.
The attitude of Germany at the time, according to Larson, was to engage in war without morals or rules, kill everything, cripple the enemy, and that's what they planned to do.
England wanted the U.S. to join the fight, President Woodrow Wilson wasn't interested despite the warmongers that seemed to inhabit his Cabinet at the time.
In light of the fact that German subs were sinking ships in an around England & Ireland at an alarming rate, the Lusitania still set off for Liverpool. This boggles my mind, many passengers had joked about being torpedoed in their diaries and letters home. My opinion is that they simply couldn't believe it would happen to them.
But in a stroke of absolute luck that Larson paints like a mystery/thriller, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk on 7th May as it passed Ireland. It was one of the biggest and fastest cruise liners in existence and it sunk in eighteen minutes, killing over 1,000 people.
I won't go into details because I can't possibly compete with Larson's depiction of the events, he is a master storyteller that could make the signing of a law on littering seem exciting.
The conspiracy still exists and Larson doesn't try to disprove it: Did the UK know about the danger to the Lusitania and ignore it in the hopes that the U.S. would rush to war? It's a frightening prospect, but not one that I'm willing to disprove.
What's fascinating about Dead Wake is that Larson provides both sides of the story, that of the Captain of the Lusitania and the passengers, and that of the submarine captain that sunk the ship, seemingly out of blind chance.
Even if you have no interest in WWI or tales of the sea, you will love Dead Wake, it's that good.