The Lusitania coming into port. From here
The Lusitania coming into port. From here

I’m reading an excellent book right now that my coworker L. lent me. It’s called Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (see it here on Goodreads, or on Amazon). It’s a great book—I love it so far. It’s quite easy to read, too, which is probably why I’ve read almost one hundred pages of it just this evening.

The book describes the circumstances behind the last voyage of Cunard Line’s ship Lusitania, a ship that the Germans sunk in 1915 at the beginning of World War I. In fact, most people in the United States are taught this was the reason our country decided to get involved in the war. (That isn’t completely true, at least according to a professor I had as an undergraduate, but that’s a story for another time.)

As I said, I’m about a hundred pages into the book. The Lusitania still hasn’t set sail on her final voyage yet. The author has been describing the circumstances around the sailing—as in, what certain passengers were doing at the time, what the captain of the U-boat that torpedoed the ship was doing, what was going on with the British Admiralty, etc.—and it’s made me realize what a different world existed back then.

For example, men’s raincoats in New York cost $6.75 apiece in 1915. Admittedly, that was “less than half their usual price” (p. 42), but still, it’s so odd to think of a decent piece of clothing with that price. (And I’m sure those raincoats were a lot better quality than the usual made-in-China rubbish that populates so many American stores nowadays!)

Here’s another interesting fact I learned: the national country with the third-most amount of passengers on board the ship was… Russia! There were 949 British citizens and 189 Americans on board—both these numbers make sense because the ship sailed between England (I guess to the port of Southampton?) and New York. But I hadn’t expected Russians to come in third place numerically. Granted, there were only 71 of them, which pales in comparison to the 949 British people, but still. (See p. 43 for more information about the passengers on the ship.)

Seriously, this book is great. It falls firmly within the realm of popular history, but that’s okay. (Remember, I’m a recovering academic, and academic historians look down on so-called popular history. I think they feel it sacrifices quality of research in order to be more accessible. There are some poorly researched popular history book, of course, but many of them are well-researched and actually written in prose that is a pleasure to read. Many academic historians would do well to write in a less abstruse manner, if you ask me.) I definitely plan on reading it a bit during my lunch break today.

7 thoughts on “A Different World

  1. Thanks! I just saw this book recommended in a magazine and one of my questions was its readability. I’d rather read a less-academic book that I actually finish and learn something from than a definitive work that I just can’t force myself to keep reading.

    1. I promise it is VERY readable. I completely understand—those academic books are so unreadable sometimes that I really don’t think anyone reads them, even academics!

  2. We know that, for example, 1980s didn’t really end until 1993. 1800s didn’t really end till 1930s too. A different world, indeed.
    How many of those Americans know that Lusitania is the name of Portugal?

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