Pros: Titanic, First Hand Account, Insights of icebergs and conditions on that night
Cons: Some facts now already well established
The sinking of the Titanic, the ship that was supposedly invincible, on its maiden voyage is known by almost every inhabitant on this planet. Even though it occurred roughly 100 years ago, it goes down in the history books, and in our collective consciousness as a pivotal and tragic event. Whether its books written by Mr. Lord, or the movie in the late 1990's, the Titanic will always be remembered. On its maiden voyage, it struck an iceberg, and last year I finally had the honor of seeing the real newspaper account of this accident. This was at the Newseum in Washington D.C., and reading it was quite an experience, and I was deeply moved and touched as if it had happened on that very day.
Since I was a young boy, I have found this event, along with the Civil War and WWII, to be my favorite areas of historical study. Perhaps its because they are all full of people interest stories, and the Titanic is a reminder of how vulnerable we really are. A lot of folks thought the U.S. Space Shuttle was completely safe, and two of these orbiters were lost. In the advancements of humanity with regards to technology, there are going to be these events, that remind us of our imperfections even with our best intentions. Lawrence Beesley was one of the survivors of the Titanic's sinking, and this is the only book that I've read from someone on that great luxury liner. I have been able to piece together stories from other survivors in other works, and also learn a lot from Dr. Bob Ballard, who discovered where this great ship lies thousands of feet under the water.
Beesley's account is an emotional experience in numerous places. Sadly, it takes awhile to get going, as he describes the boarding process, and labors over details that didn't carry a lot of weight at the beginning. These would include parlor rooms, libraries, and other areas of the ship that any informed reader would know about. Yet perhaps for a person just picking up on this tragedy's ramifications, it might lay the foundation to understanding, what this sinking meant on a grand scale. You learn how Mr. Beesley met passengers whom were never seen again, and about hymns about the hazards of the ocean, being sung the night before the great ship went down. Also, you learn a bit more of the human perspective, about how second class and steerage passengers were treated, and also separated from the first class folks. Later on, as we all know, the majority of these people died.
The reason that Mr. Beesley survived, despite the "women and children first" mantra, was that he was lucky enough to be standing on a deck where a lifeboat was loaded early. Nobody wanted to get on, but he did. Later on it did get more full, but he explains how the band continued to play music, and the officers of the ship appeared as if nothing happened. The actual collision with the iceberg in Beesley's words, was no more than a "slight bump". Later on the ship came to a halt, and he and others assumed a propeller had fallen off. Yet other's curiosity was piqued, as they went around the ship looking for reasons, while the majority just played cards on were asleep in their cabins.
What sets this book apart, is Mr. Beesley's description of the sinking. I sat stunned imagining the setting. You have a clear night, and are watching a ship the size of over a half mile in length, lowering down into the cold waters. People are screaming for help in the water, and the rockets being fired from the deck, must have been something that stayed with him and other survivors the rest of their lives. What a futile effort that was, although he describes how the Carpathia was on the scene first, and its heroic actions. When dawn appeared, the survivors in his lifeboat thought they saw other ships. This turned out to be icebergs.
The firsthand experiences were excellent. While I did get a bit bored with the findings at the Senate hearings, and much of what I learned before, this book serves a valuable experience. While the event did cause changes with regards to safety of passengers, this book is a personal tribute to all of those who perished, and should have been saved. There were other boats who could have also risked danger, like the Carpathia did, and Mr. Beesley holds nothing back ripping apart the California and other vessels that did not respond to what was known to be an emergency. He does this in a forceful manner, and I do not blame him, as he was huddled up with others who missed their loved ones as they finally did get to New York with thousands dead. This is a quick read, but I recommend it. Getting to understand what it was like to be on this ship during the voyage, about some of the lucky souls by sheer dumb luck not getting onboard, and about what it did to the survivors makes it an hour and a half of your time well spent.