Dead Wake by Erik Larson


Dead Wake

“The track lingered on the surface like a long pale scar. In maritime vernacular, this trail of fading disturbance, whether from ship or torpedo, was called a ‘dead wake.’” 

In my understanding, the sinking of the Lusitania was a key factor in the United States entering World War I, but history tells a different story. It was two years after the sinking and the deaths of many American citizens that Americans finally fought with their Allies in Europe. The morning the Lusitania left its port in America, a notice from Germany was published in papers warning that “vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction.” The ship sailed anyway. There was even British intelligence that could have been used to warn the captain of the Lusitania that a U-boat was near it, but the information was never passed along. Tragedy resulted from both action and inaction.

I stumbled upon this book when heading out for a road trip and looking for an available audiobook. I have seen a few books by Erik Larson that seemed interesting, but had not read any yet. My husband and I were both riveted by this book, which is historical non-fiction, but reads like a well-written novel. We both learned a lot more about this time period than we knew before. We didn’t finish listening on the trip, so we finished reading the book on our Kindles after checking out the e-book from the library.

Cunard, who owned the Lusitania, not only set sail after being warned, but they also decided to load the ship with some weapons and ammunition without telling the passengers. The Lusitania was a passenger ship and a fair target of war by carrying weapons of war. Decisions made by the captain to slow down, the U-boat captain to stay at sea another day and the British intelligence to not pass along vital information so they wouldn’t reveal their sources all led to the sinking of the boat and the deaths of 1, 195 men, women and children. The book really captures the lives of several of the passengers, the captain of the ship and the captain of the U-boat. 

I highly recommend this book to just about every high schooler and adult. It helps explain the exact role the sinking played in history and America’s decision to enter World War I. The book does an excellent job bringing history to life in a way that the reader will remember the details for a long time. History lovers will especially love this book. I look forward to reading more of Larson’s books.

Christmas trivia: Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat was carrying Charles Dickens’s personal copy of A Christmas Carol and over 100 drawings done by William Makepeace Thackeray. It was lost in the sinking of the Lusitania.

What do you know about the sinking of the Lusitania? Share on the blog!

Buy the book here (affiliate link).


About Sarah Anne Carter

Sarah Anne Carter is a writer and reader. She grew up all over the world as a military brat and is now putting down roots with her family in Ohio. Family life keeps her busy, but any spare moment is spent reading, writing or thinking about plots for novels.