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Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy
DIANA PRESTON

Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy by Diana Preston
50 reviews (2002) (544p)
ALA Notable Books - Nonfiction Finalist

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Book Description

On May 7, 1915, toward the end of her 101st eastbound crossing, from New York to Liverpool, England, R.M.S. Lusitania-- pride of the Cunard Line and one of the greatest ocean liners afloat-- became the target of a terrifying new weapon and a casualty of a terrible new kind of war. Sunk off the southern coast of Ireland by a torpedo fired from the German submarine U-20, she exploded and sank in eighteen minutes, taking with her some twelve hundred people, more than half of the passengers and crew. Cold-blooded, deliberate, and unprecedented in the annals of war, the sinking of the Lusitania shocked the world. It also jolted the United States out of its neutrality-- 128 Americans were among the dead-- and hastened the nation's entry into World War I.

 

In her riveting account of this enormous and controversial tragedy, Diana Preston recalls both a pivotal moment in history and a remarkable human drama. The story of the Lusitania is a window on the maritime world of the early twentieth century: the heyday of the luxury liner, the first days of the modern submarine, and the climax of the decades-long German-British rivalry for supremacy of the Atlantic. It is a critical chapter in the progress of World War I and in the political biographies of Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. Above all, it is the story of the passengers and crew on that fateful voyage-- a story of terror and cowardice, of self-sacrifice and heroism, of death and miraculous survival.

 

With a historian's insight and a novelist's gift for characterization and detail, Preston re-creates the events surrounding the Lusitania's last voyage, from the behind-the-scenes politics in each country and the German spy ring in New York, to the extraordinary scene as the ship sank and the survivors awaited rescue, to the controversial inquests in Britain and the United States into how the ship came to be hit and why she sank so quickly. Captain William Turner, steadfast and trustworthy but overconfident, believed that "a torpedo can't get the Lusitania-- she runs too fast."

 

The passenger list included the rich and powerful (American millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt, theater producer Charles Frohman, Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat) as well as newlyweds and nursemaids, galley cooks and stokers, Quakers and cardsharps, ship's detectives and German stowaways. Preston weaves their voices throughout her compelling narrative, giving it a powerful immediacy.

 

Drawing on a vast array of sources-- including interviews with survivors, letters and memoirs, recently released American and Admiralty archives, and previously untranslated German documents-- Diana Preston has resolved the controversies surrounding the Lusitania and written the definitive account of this pivotal event in western history.


Amazon.com Review
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


Diana Preston Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 1  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 1  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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