Skip to main content
PBS logo
Want fewer ads?

Book Review of Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age

Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age
BettySunshine avatar reviewed on + 30 more book reviews

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania has just passed. As a result of this anniversary, there are several new books on the topic. I chose to read this one by Greg King and Penny Wilson. Well, I think I made the wrong choice. This book was so tedious; it was a chore to read. I had to read through just over half of the book before the torpedo hit. So what was in that first half? There were a couple of interesting facts. First, there were warnings from the German embassy in Washington, DC. Travelers were reminded that a state of war existed between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies. They were informed that the waters adjacent to the British Isles were part of the zone of war. The embassy stated that vessels flying with the flag of Great Britain or any of her allies were susceptible to destruction in those waters. However, the warning was ignored and treated as just propaganda. The second interesting fact was that unlike the Titanic that took two hours and 40 minutes to sink, the Lusitania went down in only 18 minutes!

The rest of the first twelve chapters was filled with the minutiae of the biographies of the First Class passengers. It went into detail of what they brought on board with them and the downright foolishness of the rich. For example, Alice Vanderbilt was so arrogant that she once spent hours being endlessly driven around New York City because she felt it beneath her dignity to give her chauffeur directions. Perhaps a better title would have been Lusitania: Lifestyles of the Rich and Arrogant. I was so bored with their stories that none of them really stuck in my mind. Therefore, I felt no connection once the ship was hit and started sinking.

There were a few people who were nervous about the voyage. Some wills were changed prior to embarkation due to the nervousness. One lady carried her jewel box with her when dining should disaster strike. There was definitely tension on board the nearer they came to the British Isles. Some of the passengers thought that an escort would be sent to safely guide them through the danger zone. In fact, the ships captain had pretty much said that. But there was no escort. The captain was strict about evacuation drills, but only with the crew. The passengers themselves were never included in a drill, and this was a serious error. The lifebelts were difficult to access, and the passengers were not assigned to lifeboats. This contributed to the chaos that ensued when the ship was indeed torpedoed.

Amongst all the panic, it seemed the crew was more interested in saving their own lives than those of the passengers. Also the crew did not know how to lower the lifeboats. Many of the collapsible lifeboats were unusable as they lacked plugs, oars missing, oarlocks rusted, etc. As the ship slid into the sea, Captain Turner continued to tell people that the boat could not sink.

If you can get through the first half of the book, the last half does pick up. Reading what the survivors endured was interesting. If you know almost nothing about the Lusitania, you may find this book interesting.

Thank you to GoodReads and St, Martins Press for an Advance Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Want fewer ads?