As some of you may be aware April 15th, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. In honor of this anniversary, I thought it would be pretty neat to read about the Titanic and gain a better understanding of one of the most famous events of the 20th century. The book that I chose to read for this occasion is often known as “the Titanic bible”: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. It was first published in 1955 and honestly I doubt that it has lost any of its significance since then. It is a truly poignant recollection of both tragedy and survival.
A Night to Remember explains the minute-by-minute details of what occurred on April 14th, 1912 after the Titanic’s fatal collision with an iceberg. Through a massive collection of details, Walter Lord manages to weave a story that makes you feel like you are there visualizing what is happening to these people aboard this gigantic ocean liner. At points I could literally feel myself holding my breath wondering what was going to happen even though in the long run I knew exactly what was going to happen. A Night To Remember is written in a very simple prose that forces you to be unable to ignore the impact of what is actually happening within the pages.
There were so many diverse people fighting for their lives aboard the ship and Walter Lord does not ignore any of them He highlights the differences in class structures and how certain people had a greater advantage when it came to survival than others. I enjoyed his analysis of the class snobbery and attitudes of the time that led to a higher percentage of deaths among the third-class passengers vs. the first and second classes. He also highlights how it is strongly possible that this whole awful tragedy could have been avoided if only people were paying attention to what was going on around them. For example, the fact that the ship the Californian was a mere ten or so miles away from the Titanic but did not pay attention to any of the distress calls, rockets, or did not even attempt to provide any assistance until after another ship, the Carpethia, had already arrived.
“Overriding everything else, the Titanic also marked the end of a general feeling of confidence. Until then, men felt they had found the answer to a steady, organized, civilized life. For 100 years the Western world had been at peace. For 100 years, technology had steadily improved. For 100 years, the benefits of peace and industry seemed to be filtering satisfactorily through society . . . The Titanic woke them up. Never again would they be quite so sure of themselves. In technology, especially, the disaster was a terrible blow. Here was the “unsinkable ship” — perhaps man’s greatest engineering achievement — going down the first time it sailed. But it went beyond that. If this supreme achievement was so terribly fragile, what about everything else?” (p. 95)
This quote gave me chills reading it. Walter Lord’s broader perspective on the ship and his examination of the nautical safety policy at the time (or lack thereof) and of social and political norms also gave an insight as to how this event marked a global psychological shift within society. In addition to this analogy another thing that gives me chills is the fact the A Night to Remember concludes with a list of ALL the people aboard the ship. The names of the survivors are listed in italics. It is very sombering to realize that the rescue ship, the Carpethia, was only able to rescue less than a third of the Titanic’s total passenger list. Especially when you can see entire families erased from history.
Honestly, A Night to Remember is more then just another book on the sinking of the Titanic. It is a truly “the Titanic bible” as it has been referred as so many times. It is truly epic as it wanders from person to person and place to place recreating one of the most famous disasters of all time. Truthfully it is a non-fiction book that feels more like a great novel and one that I could read time and time again. If you haven’t read this book and are strongly interested learning more about the Titanic, I highly suggest this book to you.
Do you have any Titanic suggestions for me? Admittedly I have always been interested in learning about the Titanic, and I have read a few things here and there but, I still feel that I have so much more to learn, and I am open to any and all suggestions (both fiction and non-fiction) that you may have for me.
Disclosure: Personal copy