This is a wonderful addition to the many books about Titanic and its fateful maiden voyage. The emphasis is on the passangers and crew which sailed on it and what their experiences would have been and how they differed. There is a lot of information on the stratified and class conscious society at that time. I was interested to learn that US immigration laws stipulated passengers of different classes must be separated on liners by locked metal barriers to stop the spread of contagion. Also, that it was considered very bad manners to go and look round lower class decks onboard liners ("slumming expeditions"), which many first class passengers did when crossing the Atlantic as though studying another form of life. Information on the experience which greeted third class and steerage passengers at Ellis Island was also very illuminating and stories of those emigrating to America to find a better life often extremely touching.
Titanic was supposed to bring a new era to Atlantic crossing and passengers often claimed, "You would never imagine you were on board a ship." On board the largest ship in the world it was easy to forget the power of the ocean. This fascinating book looks at the people who were responsible for building Titanic and where it was built. The general idea was to build ships which replicated the amenities the rich expected of luxury hotels. Lifeboats were, apparently, discussed for five or ten minutes" during a meeting, but it is worth pointing out that Titanic was no worse than other liners and that they fulfilled all the regulations of the day. For passengers, steam travel was both quicker and safer.
On board Titanic were a huge number of rich and influential passengers, including John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim. First class passengers often cancelled and booked last minute in their constant "breathless rush across continents", which is likened to, "the same scene in a new setting". Once on board, the author discusses all the pleasures and activities they could have indulged in. There is also detailed information on both Second class, with its clergymen, shopkeepers, chauffeurs, teachers and engineers. Third class is also looked at in depth, as are the officers and crew on board. The stories about the passengers are often unbearably sad. On Titanic were professional gamblers, missionaries, adulterers, a child kidnapper, millionaires, farmers and economic migrants from many parts of the world, all with a story to tell.
As the book nears its conclusion you almost hope for another ending, but obviously that is not to be. The collision and the sinking of Titanic are recounted with emphasis on the personal stories. Titanic's doom aroused malicious satisfaction as well as horror. It was packed with millionaires,who aroused envy and migrants,who aroused contempt. Not everyone wished to "die like English gentlemen" or "treat death like an awfully big adventure". Captain Smith (whose grandson was my old geography teacher at school and who so resembled his grandfather it was like seeing him appear in the pictures of this book!) was anxious to avoid panic and shaken by the knowledge that their were insufficient lifeboats. Therefore passengers were often given mixed messages about how dangerous the situation was, with passengers often being told to return to their cabins, until water actually seeped under the doors.
There are stories of immense bravery in this book and of men refusing places in the lifeboats - "No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward!" proclaimed the millionaire and certainly Guggenheim, Astor and Strauss were three prominent men who were proclaimed heroes, as was the ships band who courageously played on to stem panic, The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic
. It is certainly true that men were allowed to board on one side of the ship and not the other and that men were excluded needlessly, even if there were spare places in the boats (of which there were many not full to anything near capacity). Young boys especially were considered as men - I mentally cheered when Astor plunked a girls hat on an eleven year old boys head and thrust him into a boat. The true tragedy were the tales of tiny bodies recovered from the sea and nearly half the children on board lost, although gender was more important than class in surviving the disaster.
Lastly, the book looks at the aftermath of the tragedy. How some were called heroes and others, including Bruce Ismay and the Duff Coopers, made scapegoats How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay
. There was "a thrill at the heroism and self sacrifice", but undoubtedly men had survived and women had died, along with children. National mourning ensued, especially in New York, Paris, London and Southampton, where many of the crew lived. Overall, this is an extremely interesting and very moving read, which gives great detail on how people lived and travelled during the time of Titanic and of the lust for speed which caused ships to take risks, as well as the mistaken belief that the liners were so huge and powerful they were invulnerable to nature. If anything good came from this terrible tragedy, it was a change to safer sea routes and laws demanding every ship had enough life boats for all passengers and crew. Excellent read and highly recommended.