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How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay [Hardcover]

Frances Wilson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
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Book Description

8 Aug 2011
Books have been written, films made, we have raised the Titanic and watched her go down again on numerous occasions, but out of the wreckage Frances Wilson spins a new epic: when the ship hit the iceberg on 14 April 1912 and a thousand men prepared to die, J Bruce Ismay, the ship's owner and inheritor of the White Star fortune, jumped into a lifeboat with the women and children and rowed away to safety.

Accused of cowardice, Ismay became, according to one headline, 'The Most Talked-of Man in the World'. The first victim of a press hate campaign, his reputation never recovered and while other survivors were piecing together their accounts, Ismay never spoke of his beloved ship again.

With the help of that great narrator of the sea, Joseph Conrad, whose Lord Jim so uncannily predicted Ismay's fate - and whose manuscript of the story of a man who impulsively betrays a code of honour and lives on under the strain of intolerable guilt went down with the Titanic - Frances Wilson explores the reasons behind Ismay's jump, his desperate need to make sense of the horror of it all, and to find a way of living with lost honour.

For those who survived the Titanic the world was never the same again. But as Wilson superbly demonstrates, we all have our own Titanics, and we all need to find ways of surviving them.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; First Edition First Impression edition (8 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408809222
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408809228
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 381,293 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

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing story about Bruce Ismay 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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent "new take" on the Titanic 2 Sep 2011
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
It's almost 2012 and we're heading towards the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the "Titanic". Almost everything that can be written about the Boat vs Iceberg has been written in the past century. British historian Frances Wilson, in her brilliant new book, "How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J Bruce Ismay", has found a new angle on the disaster. She looks at Bruce Ismay - is he a passenger or is he an officer - the owner of the "Titanic" who sets off on her maiden voyage and survives the sinking and, loses himself in the process.

Wilson combines fictional history with actual history and compares Joseph Conrad's tragic figure of "Lord Jim" with Ismay. Even if you haven't read "Lord Jim" - and I had not - Wilson's writing about the two men, each afflicted with the guilt of survival, is beautiful. Ismay, an aloof man, has very little emotional contact with his family or his business associates. He is a loner; a successful man in business who lives within his own mind in every other part of his life. He survives the sinking by another twenty or so years, but having successfully staved off death, he lives the rest of his life knowing that the survival carries a taint of dishonor. Why did he live when 1500 others died on a ship that did not carry enough life boats to save everybody on the ship? The lack of lifeboats was the result of a directive from Bruce Ismay who considered the "Titanic" to be "unsinkable" and the extra lifeboats to be "unslightly". Wilson writes about the testimony Ismay, members of the crew, and survivors gave in hearings in New York, Washington, and London.

Wilson's writing is exquisite. She combines history, literature, and a healthy dose of psychology in a wonderful addition to the collection of "Titanic" books.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Centre of His Own Story 17 Sep 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
'Always awkwardly positioned....He is never at the centre of his own story.' Frances Wilson puts this right and gives us a full account of J.Bruce Ismay.

Having read Beesley, Gracie, Lightoller on the Titanic (Don't you prefer the 'the'? Seems much more natural to me), I had no plans to read more on the story, but the enthusiastic reviews for Frances Wilson's book persuaded me. The praise is warranted too. I notice there is Guardian workshop for writing biography led by Ms Wilson and I would love to go. However, 500 in the current economy is a bit much for us steerage class passengers. Probably, it is not necessary as her Ismay book is a masterclass in itself in good biography.

Although Ismay is depicted with brutal clarity, there is a gentleness to the author's writing style that avoids judgment. I will pass 'How to Survive' to my daughter, when I'm done with it. She is fascinated by the story, like so many, and I am sure she will appreciate the excellence of this book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and humane 10 Sep 2011
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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18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Riddled with factual errors 2 Sep 2011
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
I thought I knew all about the Titanic (my grandson is an expert!). This book is a sensitive and thoughtful biography, but throws light on the progress of sociology and industry of... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Psychogran
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Very interesting new angle on the Titanic. If you are interested in the Titanic this is a good book to read. The price it was offered at was an absolute steal.
Published 21 months ago by I. Finney
5.0 out of 5 stars J Bruce Ismay
The book arrived quickly and was well packaged, the book itself was in excellent condition. Ive wanted this book for a while now and it was an excellent read, non biased and well... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Jewels
I enjoyed this book,although J.Bruce Ismay has been a character in the sinking of the Titanic,I knew little about him apart from what happened on that eventful April night in 1912. Read more
Published 23 months ago by bibliophile
5.0 out of 5 stars Was Bruce J. Ismay Autistic ?
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..... Read more
Published on 31 July 2012 by PossumNest
1.0 out of 5 stars How to Survive the Titanic
J. Bruce Ismay was a very sensitive and private person and it is high time that books such as this and other publications, stopped suggesting that he was a coward and even on some... Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2012 by BeMindful
4.0 out of 5 stars the sinking of Bruce ismay
Good interesting book. lots of background information about the man and his family as well as information about the sinking of titanic. a worthwhile read.
Published on 9 Jan 2012 by Alistair
4.0 out of 5 stars Sympathy for Bruce Ismay
I treated myself to this book for Christmas as, probably like many other people I had always thought of Bruce Ismay as the coward who escaped from the Titanic. Read more
Published on 1 Jan 2012 by Sally W.
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for Titanic fans
An interesting read for all followers of the doomed ship, Titanic. The book keeps its readers wanting to find out more as the story unfolds even though we know the outcome. Read more
Published on 2 Oct 2011 by Kathleen S. Kenyon
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