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How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay Hardcover – 15 Aug 2011


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How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay + Titanic Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; First Edition First Impression edition (15 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408809222
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408809228
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 3.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A writer's writer who will no doubt inspire her own cult following' (Amanda Foreman)

On Literary Seductions:

'Psychologically rich and wise' (Alain de Botton)

On The Courtesan's Revenge:

'A wonderful biography ... witty and sharp' (Jane Ridley, Spectator)

On The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth:

'Passion is the keynote of Wilson's fine biography' (Sunday Times)

Book Description

The strange and fascinating story of the owner of the Titanic, J. Bruce Ismay, the man who jumped ship

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gertrud Schmidt on 31 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read it with great interest because it shows some points of Ismays life I didn't know before!'
Ismay was not as bad as people said.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Eric on 30 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Rather giving us her interpretation of events on Titanic, Ms Wilson relates several versions of the key moments, each taken from a different witness. By doing so, she conveys the impossibility of knowing what really happened that night more successfully than any other author I know of. She does not give an opinion on whether Ismay jumped, stepped or was pushed into a lifeboat - perhaps because it is immaterial. The result was always going to be the same: Ismay was both saved and lost.

Ms Wilson explores Ismay's character throught his life and letters and through the literary landscape of the time. As a result there are lots of fascinating nuggets relating to this wider context which are not the usual fare of Titanic books. There are a few (minor) bloomers, and the coincidences of Conrad's Lord Jim take perhaps too much of the stage, but it is nevertheless a very enjoyable book. It brings much new material - and although this does not shed new light on the events of the night, it does help our understanding of why we are still interested in this ship above all others 100 years on. And she comes to a profound conclusion about why this dull man continues to fascinate.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Night photographer on 10 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Frances Wilson's book offers a convincing and finely nuanced analysis of one man's personality and reputation. The book did challenge my own preconceptions concerning Ismay's moral status, and "How to survive the Titanic" will stay in my mind for a long time. It is easy to be prejudiced against Ismay, and Wilson succeeds in asking us to look again. I enjoyed the book a great deal.

However to my mind it contains one serious flaw. If Ismay's moral status is the issue then it is surprising to me that very little was said about Thomas Andrews. Like Ismay, Andrews (as one of the 3 designers of the Titanic) was responsible for the ship, and unlike Ismay, Andrews accepted that this responsiblity obliged him to stay out of the lifeboats, and choose death. If Andrews felt honourably obliged to die in this way, then we need to know why Ismay didn't. Andrews chose the fate that Ismay was criticised for not choosing. To my mind Andrews' decision is central to the question of how we judge Ismay.
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful By M. Williams on 2 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover
My views on this book are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, it is both deftly and intelligently written. Wilson has a great narrative style, which moves at a cracking pace, and this does much to immerse the reader in the story of that terrible night in 1912, and its impact on J. Bruce Ismay himself. Meditative and thought-provoking by turns, it succeeds in exploring a refreshing new angle on an oft-told tale.

However, much of the good work is hopelessly - and I mean, hopelessly - undone by a litany of factual errors, mis-captioned illustrations and really appalling editing. To highlight just three painful examples; 'Lord' Duff Gordon was not a 'lord' at all, but a baronet. The plans for the 'Olympic' trio were conceived in Belgrave Square, Belgravia, not in Berkeley Square, Mayfair. And John B. Thayer was the Second Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, not the (nonexistent) 'Philadelphia Railroad'. In fairness to the author, many of these errors will only be obvious to serious 'Titanic' historians. Nevertheless, the correct information is quite easily obtainable, in both the primary and secondary sources which Wilson (presumably) consulted, and there is absolutely no excuse for such sloppiness. One can only ask oneself how she contrived to get some things so wrong. Did her computer crash at the last minute, causing her to re-constitute her material from memory? Was her initial note-taking at fault? Or was her publisher simply cutting corners? Whatever the reason, it is a great pity that basic facts were not checked more thoroughly, for the cumulative effect of this deplorable carelessness is a fatal undermining of a potentially excellent biographical study.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By PossumNest on 31 July 2012
Format: Hardcover
After reading this book, I am quite convinced that J. Bruce Ismay was more than likely on the Autistic Spectrum, probably Asperger's Syndrome. Think about it.....His manner, his behaviour during and after the Titanic incident and at the subsequent hearings, and his apparent lack of understanding and empathy both for the Titanic victims and members of his own family.
His own father disliked him. He could not communicate effectively, sounding dictatorial in his job as Managing Director of the White Star Line. He dominated the supposed conversation with Captain Smith. Communication in his marriage was almost non-existant. The only person he really tried to communicate with was Mrs Thayer, a very empathetic woman who Bruce Ismay seemed to be obsessed with, and who he was beginning to open up his emotions to. To him, she may have been the only person who really tried to understand him. His self-imposed social isolation, his impeccable memory, his robotic answers at the trials, his lack of personal guilt.
Yes, I know, I'm getting carried away, but I hope someone does a bit more research into this.
It would certainly explain a lot of things...his self-serving, self-preserving "jump" especially.
BTW...loved the book...I give it 5 stars :)
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