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Down with the Old Canoe: Cultural History of the "Titanic" Disaster [Paperback]

Steven Biel
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster 3.4 out of 5 stars (7)
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Book Description

31 Dec 1997
"I suggest, henceforth, when a woman talks women's rights, she be answered with the word Titanic, nothing more just Titanic," wrote a St. Louis man to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was not alone in mining the ship for a metaphor. Everyone found ammunition in the Titanic suffragists and their opponents; radicals, reformers, and capitalists; critics of technology and modern life; racists and xenophobes and champions of racial and ethnic equality; editorial writers and folk singers, preachers and poets. Protestant sermons used the Titanic to condemn the budding consumer society ("We know the end of . . . the undisturbed sensualists. As they sail the sea of life we know absolutely that their ship will meet disaster."). African American toasts and working-class ballads made the ship emblematic of the foolishness of white people and the greed of the rich. A 1950s revival framed the disaster as an "older kind of disaster in which people had time to die." An ever-increasing number of Titanic buffs find heroism and order in the tale. Still in the headlines ("Titanic Baby Found Alive!" the Weekly World News declares) and a figure of everyday speech ("rearranging deck chairs . . ."), the Titanic disaster echoes within a richly diverse, paradoxical, and fascinating America."

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (31 Dec 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393316769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393316766
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.9 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 624,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Biel shows--with style and wit, as well as scholarship--how the sinking of a ship nearly a century ago resonates through popular culture today."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
ONE WAY TO begin to think about the Titanic disaster is to look at other events that occurred at the same time. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is one of the few Titanic books currently in print which does more than rehash the same old sinking story. Instead, it looks at the reaction of society to the greatest marine tragedy of all time.
The success of Biel's book hinges on his meticulous research and thorough reporting of his findings. One chapter examines how the New York press reported the tragedy in the days following the sinking. Many authors are content to re-state what the New York Times said (accurately reporting that the ship had sunk), and what the New York Sun said (inaccurately reporting "All Saved From Titanic After Collision"). Biel digs deeper, and presents a range of reactions that vary from honest, dedicated journalism to wild speculation.
Biel's also examines how the Titanic affects us to this day. His analysis of Titanic movies such as "A Night to Remember", "Titanic" (1953), and "Raise the Titanic" give the reader a new perspective on these often-overlooked films. More than cinematic re-tellings of the sinking, they reveal the feelings and values of the people who made them.
Although it is not the most exciting of novels, it is a brave work that, like prospectors looking for gold, successfully finds new material in a world of tired, re-hashed, and looked-over facts.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Historically accurate but dramatically lacking 21 Oct 1996
By A Customer
"Down With the Old Canoe," is a detailed rendering of the
sociological impact of the Titanic disaster, from the time
of her sinking to modern day "enthusiasts."

Harvard educated Biel seems to want to include every tidbit
and piece of trivia he can find on the impact the sinking had
on the day-to-day lives of the worlds populace.

He accurately chronicles the delay in America of women being
given the right to vote; tying that decision into the chivalry
shown by the male victims of the sinking.

No sermon given on the evils of wealth for wealth's sake is
left unmentioned as it pertained to the millionaires who lost
their lives.

Moden day "enthusiasts" and their reasons for being so enamored
of the lost vessel are explored in depth, and make for fascinating

But Biel, himself, remains aloof from the subject; he never
even attempts to connect, personally, with his subject. In the
final chapters, he reveals that had been his intention: to not
cast his person in the book itself.

That aloofness; that lack of "first-person" gives "Down With
the Old Canoe," a strange dichotomy. At times (especially in
those areas dealing with the modern enthusiasts), is is as
fast and entertaining a read as a current issue of Time, Newsweek
or People magazines. At others, the story Biel attempts to relate
is as dry and dull as attempting to read a term paper.

Titanic afficinados will enjoy this book; others may want the
more thrilling "A Night To Remember."
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By A Customer
Steven Biel writes with a detail and depth of knowledge of his subject. The disaster becomes a touchstone for aspects of popular American culture, a prism through which various 20th century concerns are seen, even as Titanic-as-metaphor becomes increasingly mythic and removed from the actual event.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rearranging the Titanic 11 Feb 2012
How many single moments in history have captured the imagination as universally as the sinking of the Titanic? Everybody knows the bare bones of the story: the iceberg, the unsinkable ship. It's such a singular and devastating example of pride before a fall that it hardly needs further embellishment, so that as the band plays bravely on, one is tempted simply to gawp as the bows rear up and slide beneath the water. And that's fine, except history works the other way round. Reading this book is like watching all the detritus surrounding that catastrophe - the conflicting rumours in its immediate aftermath, the films, the songs, the books - coming fizzing and popping to the surface as the ship itself continues its vertical plunge into the obscurity of legend.
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