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Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy by Diana Preston

Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy (original 2002; edition 2002)

by Diana Preston

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Title:Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy
Authors:Diana Preston
Info:Walker & Company (2002), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 544 pages
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Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy by Diana Preston (2002)


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1915 - the year when everyone was in competition to see who could build the biggest, the fastest, the safest, the most stylish luxury ocean liner on the Atlantic. In the meantime, war was underway so another group was trying to build the fastest, the safest, the most stealthy and deadly underwater vessel called a U-boat. On May 7th, 1915 these two ocean vehicles would come together and make controversial history and spark one of World War I's biggest mysteries. In 1915 the British vessel the Lusitania was the fastest passenger liner on the ocean. It was rumored to be able to outrun any U-boat enemy. However, what is fascinating about Diana Preston's version of events is the amount of suspense she builds in the telling. I found myself questioning what I would do if I was set to board a British passenger ship, knowing full well its country was at war and the enemy had just issued a warning to passengers (to me!) stating they would attack my mode of transportation. In addition, I had options. There were neutral American boats going the same way.
I enjoyed Preston's Lusitania so much I sought out documentaries about the May 7th, 1915 sinking to learn more. ( )
  SeriousGrace | May 30, 2017 |
"Lusitania" was heavy on research and background material which made it slow going. I learned way more about the history and development of submarines and torpedoes than I cared to know. Preston's development of characters was excellent, as was her descriptions of the sinking and the aftermath for the survivors.

The stupidity of the cruise line and captain were appalling. They seemed to have learned nothing from the sinking of the Titanic and assumed that their ship was too fast to be hit and, if hit, would be slow in sinking, allowing everyone to be evacuated. There were no realistic drills for the crew and none at all for the passengers. Consequently, their inability to successfully lower the life boats was complicated by the ship's list and continuing speed. ( )
  cfk | Aug 15, 2016 |
Perhaps this is odd, but I find the subject of the Sinking of the Lusitania fascinating. Perhaps it is because so many people's lives were affected and lost at once, and it was interesting to see their reactions under pressure and fear of death, some were brave, some were cowardly, some were selfish and some were selfless.

Like the first book I've read on the subject, Dead Wake by Eric Larson, An Epic Tragedy: Lusitania by Diana Preston looks at many people as they travel on the Lusitania and experience her sinking (The Lusitania was a passenger liner torpedoed by the Germans during WW1 before America entered the war). Preston seems to repeat the accounts of more people than Larson did, which I appreciate, even though getting glimpses of so many people does make it a bit 'crowded' at times and hard to remember who's who (that's more realistic right?). It makes it seem like one is getting a 'bigger picture' of the event.

As I was reading it seemed almost as if I could see the event happening. It was made more 'real' by Preston's describing the normal life and daily events that were happening just before and when the torpedo hit. Some people were eating lunch, others were taking walks on the deck, one man was trying to prove to another man how the Lusitania could not be torpedoed when the question was settled by the ship being hit during his explanation!

And then the accounts of thoughts and actions of people as the ship sunk and they entered the water (the huge ship sunk in only 18 minutes!) made it eerily 'come to life'. Some were inspirational in their bravery, some were pitiable in their cowardice and the behavior of others was shocking in their desperation to focus on saving their own lives. One man found two babies left behind on deck, picked them up and jumped into a life boat with one under each arm. Other men pushed terrified women into lifeboats while other men and women ignored those in need and greedily fought for the means to save themselves. Some survivors remembered having odd thoughts pass through their minds while in the water. I was touched and amused by the account of one man, Charles Hill who was "dismayed by the determined selfishness of his fellow passengers….As Hill thrashed in the water and began to go under again, he had the irrelevant thought that 'I hadn't paid the barber for my week's shaves.' He almost laughed. But moments later, as he tried to swim to the surface, he felt he was 'dragging something heavy.'" When he came up he found an old man holding one of his ankles while a woman with a child held his other leg, and he didn't kick them off (which one would think would be normal reaction as is proven by the accounts of the unloving actions of others)! He grabbed onto a lifeboat and they were all pulled in. I found Third Officer Albert Bestic's thought, as he hung on to an upturned collapsible lifeboat, especially striking when he "shuddered" at the sounds around him, "like the despair, anguish and terror of hundreds of souls passing into eternity."

Diana Preston writes well and keeps the interest almost all of the way through. Towards the end of the book she deals with conspiracy theories, questions, speculations and motives about the sinking of the Lusitania, and I found that a bit boring, though others may not. There were was some bad language used (quotations of various people at the time), and there was at least one detail given about someone's tatoo that I absolutely did not need to know….

It is an interesting account, a sobering look at the actions and thoughts of various people who are close to being summoned to stand before God.

Many thanks to the folks at Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book! My review did not have to be favorable.
( )
  SnickerdoodleSarah | Apr 13, 2016 |
This was a very interesting book. I liked that the writer was able to provide us with details of the survivors but also that we got to know the people that died. So many. The way Britain, America and Germany played a role in all of this is also an eye opener.
I do not understand why there is always so much talk about The Titanic. To me this tragedy was even worse. All the babies that died, and the boats that they tried to pull to the sea but in the meantime crashing and killing people. It was not a quick read for me (I although i admit I must guess when i finished it, did not keep track of my reading lately) ( )
  Marlene-NL | Apr 12, 2013 |
"Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy," by Diana Preson, is a thouroughly impressive book -- one of those rare volumes that combines meticulous scholarly research with a highly readable writing style. This book is a stunning account of a massive, heart-rending tragedy which probably altered the course of a World War.

In the first section, "Troubled Waters," Preson sets the scene with relevant background information, acquainting the reader with basic information about WWI, the navies of Germany and Britain (especially their respective submarine fleets), trans-Atlantic passenger service in general, and the massive ocean liner Lusitania in particular. The writing is accessible to those of us with limited knowledge of these subjects, but includes nuggets that more informed readers will surely treasure.

Part two, "The Final Crossing," begins with a warning from Germany which appeared in newspapers just before the great ship sailed. Preston then carries us across the Atlantic with the Lusitania, introducing the reader to some of her passengers and crew. More ominously, we are taken aboard the U-20 to meet the captain and some crew memebers of the submarine which will fire the fatal torpedo.

"An Ocean Red with Blood" is Preston's title for Part 3 -- an apt description of the scene of the disaster after the torpedo hits the great ocean liner. One of Preson's strengths as a writer is the skillful use of quotations, and it is especially effective as we hear the actual words of survivors and witnesses describing the chaos which attended the sinking of the ship and the rescue and recovery efforts.

Preson then analyzes the effect of the sinking upon world opinion and the outcome of WWI, as recruiting posters trumpeted "Remember the Lusitania" and the German government scrambled to do damage control. Finally, Preston tackles the question: under international law of the time, was the torpedoing of Lusitania, indeed, "Wilful Murder?" (It may seem obvious, but there are complex factors to be considered.)

I highly recommend this book. ( )
2 vote tymfos | Aug 23, 2009 |
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To my husband, Michael
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Toward sunset on 7 May 1915, an alert member of a lifeboat crew spotted an intermittent flash of light from a dark shape bobbing on the gentle swell of the Irish Sea.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0425189988, Paperback)

On May 7, 1915, a German submarine sank the British passenger ship Lusitania on the high seas, killing some 1,200 people, among them the magnate Alfred Vanderbilt and the renowned author Elbert Hubbard. In this swiftly paced reconstruction, Diana Preston examines the events of that day and its aftermath--and hints at some tantalizing secrets. Among other things, the sinking of the Lusitania and the death of scores of American passengers helped draw the United States into World War I. Yet, Preston observes, it was no sneak attack; the German government had gone out of its way to warn prospective passengers that the English ship, as a military reserve vessel, was a fair target. And for good reason, though the Germans may not have known it; Preston suggests that it may well have been carrying armaments, which does much to explain why the British government suppressed a fact-finding inquest following the sinking. Whatever the truth, the destruction of the Lusitania had far-reaching effects--not least of them the Kaiser's ordering a stop to unrestricted submarine warfare. Preston's richly detailed, highly readable history sheds new light on the incident and the conduct of modern war. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:20 -0400)

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Examines the sinking of the Lusitania on May 17, 1915 by a German torpedo which killed 1200 civilians.

(summary from another edition)

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