Like the author himself, there was so much that I did not know (or misunderstood) about the sinking of the Lusitania before picking up this book. For example, the ship was less than 12 miles from the British coast when it sank and over one-third of the passengers survived. The sinking did not precipitate America’s entry into WWI, either; that happened about two years later.

U-boats at the time were relatively unsophisticated. It was a single (“lucky”) shot that sunk the Lusitania. Numerous advance warnings (including an announcement from the German high command that passenger ships carrying munitions would be targeted) went unheeded. In the aftermath, the Cunard Line (who operated the ship) were mostly concerned with assigning blame to the captain. If Apollo 13, was an instructive example of incident management, this book is a lesson in how not to respond to a disaster.

Larson is a master of weaving a tale in which the mundane and the historic coexist and this book did not disappoint. Whether you read Dead Wake or not, it is well worth four minutes of your time to watch this video of Andrew Bird’s song “Lusitania.”