History in Review
|The Loss of the SS Titantic
Its Story and Its Lessons.
By Lawrence Beesley.
(1st World Library: 2006. Pg. 144.)
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - May 31, 2002
The sinking of the SS Titanic on her maiden voyage is one of those events in history that captivate the imagination and never let it go. Many books and movies have been written and made about the disaster, but one of the best accounts that I have ever read on the sinking is Lawrence Beesley's The Loss of the SS Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons. Well written, thorough, and riveting, Beesley's book stands above the rest for one important reason - Beesley was a passenger on the Titanic on that fateful day, April 15, 1912, when the unsinkable behemoth sank.
Beesley wrote The Loss of the SS Titanic shortly after he arrived on the Carpathia, in New York. This phenomenal work was first published in June of 1912, and from its inception was hailed as an honest and detailed account of the disaster. The first part of the book outlines Beesley's activities on the ship, what happened to him on the night of the disaster, his impressions of the events and the reactions of others, how he came to a place in one of the few lifeboats aboard the ship, and their rescue. The rest of the book is devoted to an overview of the disaster told from a variety of perspectives, Beesley's thoughts on why the disaster occurred, and the steps that need to be taken to ensure that it never happens again. Being a scientist and a scholar, Beesley was well placed to evaluate the information, then known, about the disaster, and to construct a rational explanation about what happened and to whom is owed the blame.
Throughout, Beesley not only introduces us to the numerous people that he met aboard the ship, but he also tried, when he could, to let us know their fate. A fate which was more often than not, morbid, in part due to the unforgivable lack of sufficient lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers and the crew. When he wrote this book, Beesley was still raw from the experience, yet he managed to write in an evenhanded and unbiased manner. When he laid blame on anyone or anything, he carefully backed up his accusation with data to explain how he came to his conclusion.
Besides discussing the actual disaster and its immediate aftermath, Beesley also gives us a vivid glimpse of what the sinking was like for the survivors. He describes what it was like to get into the life boats, the calm reaction of the people, the beauty of the night, and the fear that they would be run down by one of the approaching rescue ships because their lifeboat lacked any type of light. In writing this book Beesley also took on the task of correcting many of the misconceptions circulating at the time regarding the actions of the passengers and crew. From Beesley's viewpoint, the passengers were, for the most part, unworried and quiet. They, and many of the crew, did not think that the ship would sink rapidly and that it was safer to stay on board and await rescue, than to go through the bother of boarding a lifeboat. As a result, many lifeboats were lowered only partly filled because there were not enough people to fill all the seats. The crew followed the tradition of women and children first when filling the lifeboats. For Beesley, salvation only came his way because the crew could not find enough women fill lifeboat thirteen. Beesley also sets the record right on the calm, stoic nature of the survivors, both in the life boats and after they were rescued by the Carpathia. He also graphically describes the surreal scene that greeted them with the mornings light.
The Loss of the SS Titanic is an unparalleled narrative describing the loss of the Titanic and one man's personal account of the disaster. This is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the Titanic, maritime disasters, and man's capacity for heroism is the most trying of times.
The Sinking Of The Eastland: America's Forgotten Tragedy, by Jay Bonansinga.
A fascinating history of one of the worst disasters in American history - which occurred in 1915, when a steamship filled with 2,500 picnickers capsized at the dock, killing 844 men, women, and children.
The Quiet Heroes, by Bernard Edwards
A riveting history of the British merchant seamen who plied the U-Boat infested waters of the Atlantic throughout the dark days of World War II.
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