Hitting the Books with Gary Thorne: “Dead Wake”

I knew very little about the sinking of the cruise ship Lusitania in 1915. The sinking of the Titanic always draws major attention, while the Lusitania story exits in the shadows.

That story won’t be in the shadows anymore after reading “Dead Wake.”

Author Erik Larson has written much of historical events in non-fictional works filled with massive research efforts. “Devil in the White City” is a book written about previously on “Hitting the Books,” a riveting tale of a murder lurking in the shadows of the Chicago World’s Fair.

Lusitania was a gigantic cruise ship with a star-filled passenger list making its way from New York to England. Germany was at war with England and U-boats were everywhere, torpedoing about any ship Germany believed was from England or assisting England in the war effort.

Captain Walter Schwieger on this U-boat was infamous for his desire to sink anything that floated and might be associated with England.

When Schwieger saw the Lusitania sailing off the Irish coast through his periscope, he was astounded that there were no protective patrol boats anywhere.

He fired one torpedo, there were two explosions and the Lusitania sank in 15 minutes, killing some 1200.

Believe me, Larson describes this in great and haunting detail-suspense filled.

Then there were questions. Did the British Admiralty headed by Winston Churchill not protect the Lusitania on purpose? The British knew this German boat was in the area to be sailed by the Lusitania.

Churchill wanted the U.S. to join in the war effort, something the U.S. strove to avoid. Was the Lusitania left unguarded to be a cause to move American to join England against Germany-something it did in 1917.

By the way, the Lusitania carried war materials for England, including 4 million rounds of ammunition.

I read this book flying through the pages, knowing what was coming and wanting to see how it happened.

Of the author, there is a Baltimore connection he speaks of on his website in describing how he became a writer”At some point I grew tired of writing journalism. One day the managing editor summoned me to New York, to a breakfast at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center, where I knew he planned to offer me a job as bureau chief in one of the paper’s key bureaus. I told him no. Soon afterward, I got married - blind date, of all things - and my wife and I moved to Baltimore, where I wrote a couple of unpublished novels, did some respectable freelance pieces, helped raise some babies and wrote my first book, The Naked Consumer, about how companies spied on individual consumers. I loved that book. No one else did. This was hard, but I was happy.”

Readers can be happy, too. Larson is the historian who can writer history in as engaging a fashion as one could hope.

”... if no deliberate plan existed to put the Lusitania in danger, one is left with an unforgivable cock-up as an explanation.” ― Erik Larson, “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania”

Check out this video of the beautiful, newly renovated Enoch Pratt Free Library. This vital institution in Baltimore deserves our support and what a great time for a visit to see the restoration work.

Gary Thorne is the play-by-play voice of the Orioles on MASN, and the 2019 season is his 13th with the club and 34th covering Major League Baseball. His blog will appear regularly throughout the season. The Orioles and Sarasota County, for the 8th consecutive year, have partnered on the Big League Reader Program, which rewarded kids who read three books in February with tickets to a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium in March.

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