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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 3 March 2012
I loved this book.

I was fascinated as Richard Davenport-Hines set the infamous maiden voyage in its historical and cultural context.

Far from being a dull list as one reviewer would have it the book interestingly begins with the "life" of the fateful iceberg and then carefully moves on to reveal the race at the beginning of the 20th century to produce bigger, faster and grander steam ships, although, he notes, they were largely crewed by men trained in sail power and pretty much universally set to sea with fewer lifeboats than would be needed in case of disaster. It wasn't just the Titanic. In fact the Titanic carried more than the officially designated number for a ship of its size, and anyway it was said she was so sturdy and unsinkable she was herself just one big lifeboat.

Davenport-Hines beautifully sets the scene as commission hungry shipping line agents sold the American dream to potential immigrants who clamoured for the promised land, only to be met with harshness and scarcely hidden racism at Ellis Island. He compares this to the lives of the first class passengers and their snobbery - inherited wealth looking down upon new found wealth, and the second class, with men running away with their mistresses. In second class he tells the story of the only black passenger on the ship, with his white wife and their children, all looking for a new start in a more open-minded land, as well as a Japanese priest who would survive the disaster but be fired from the church for the shame of doing so.

My one criticism (and the only thing preventing 5 stars) would be that the author covers perhaps too many of the people on board and so we are sometimes only given scant detail of their lives and reasons for heading to New York. But that is really only a minor point. We still learn plenty of the lives of people like the millionaire Astor's, Lord and Lady Duff-Gordon, and Archie Butt, the aide to President Taft, and his "best-friend", the artist Francis Millett, who, before they went down with the ship, lived together in a house with red and pink rose wallpaper and a staff of Filipino boys (and nobody thought to guess - innocent times indeed).

After the people on board were brought to life I thought it reiterated the ultimate event as a real human tragedy. The touching piece on how a thirteen year old boy was hidden below the skirts of women in a lifeboat, only to be forcibly removed at gun-point by an officer insisting on women and children first, was particularly vivid. The boy, who although new to being a teenager was obviously deemed to be a man, lay on the deck, sobbing into his hands and assigned to his fate as the women were lowered on the lifeboat with nearly half the spaces completely empty. Many of them were never able to shake that memory and Davenport-Hines touches upon the aftermath of the disaster - not only how it shocked the world, but how it effected the mental state of those who survived.

I came away realising that it wasn't just the iceberg that sank the Titanic, but the culture that said men must die like men and women were fragile creatures that needed male protection. We believed that your social standing counted for more than your deeds and imposed rigid codes of social etiquette, employed casual racism and held an unshakeable belief in our ability to conquer nature and the power of industry. So much so that even as the ship was buckling in two and people were clinging to the railings to prevent them from sliding down the deck, some still believed the Titanic couldn't go down.

Perhaps the sinking of the Titanic had to happen to snap the human race out of its self-important daydream, just in time for the Great War to smash it altogether.
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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.
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on 18 November 2012
I have read the reviews of this book, both praising and damning, with interest as I can see both points of view. I found this book fascinating because I haven't read a lot about Titanic, and knew most of it from the Hollywood film which should not be used as a historical source! It debunks a lot of the myths (the third class being locked downstairs, women and children ONLY - on one side of the ship anyway) though I found it curious that it didn't mention the band playing until the epilogue, and nor does it mention Murdoch's infamous shooting and subsequent suicide. It would have been nice to mention the latter if only to clear Murdoch's name. I also felt it was very fair to Ismay, who I have always felt rather sorry for.

I found the lead-up to the sinking fascinating. The author works well to build up the society of 1912 and the history. He writes factually but the book has the pull of fiction and works well on both levels.

The sinking of Titanic is romanticised as a huge tragedy but this book (which I hugely recommend) brings to life not only the society of 1912, the people on the ship and Titanic herself, but the true horror of the event. It was heartbreaking reading, but I do feel it's important reading because that horror is sometimes forgotten.
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on 12 August 2012
If you thought you knew everything about the legendary liner then read again: Titanic Lives is an expansive vivid account of the ill-fated RMS Titanic. There is a wealth of factual information from the shipbuilder's yard of construction to the emblematic class system of the period; for which this ship has become such an historic time-capsule: The Hereditary rich, the patricians of first class nobility, and the industrial titans on board in luxurious First Class, the Second Class vying for respectability, and the the cramped cheek-by-jowl stories of The Third Class passengers. I was riveted to the author's poignant detailed accounts of personal survival, and the doom of individuals caught up in the chaos as the ship was going down - evoking the utter pathos of the disaster that at the time was practically the 9/11 of it's day without the terrorists.

The author explores the ripple effect as the news spread across the globe that caused an outpouring of grief worldwide, and almost mass hysteria in some quarters. Richard Davenport-Hines should be highly commended for his outstanding accomplishment in recording his extensive research that has formulated his sympathetic tome. Totally absorbing, and utterly riveting how the author has captured the tragedy from absolutely every aspect imaginable. For example: I didn't know about the Lebanese immigrants on board, hints about a particular gay couple or two, the intimate stories of economic migrants, political and religious refugees off to a new life Stateside, the impact the disaster had on the White Star shipbuilder's themselves and the vivid detail of the interiors and layout of the ship. The detailed personal accounts told of the crew and passengers immerse the reader so as to feel like you are on the doomed maiden voyage itself - making for a compelling page-turner that is probably one of the best books EVER written about the Titanic. 10/10
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on 20 February 2012
The sinking of RMS Titanic is a history of myths that commenced virtually from the moment it sailed out of the Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast as the largest, unsinkable, "floating town", and continued soon after the ship struck the iceberg and sank on April 15th, 1912, during the US Senate hearings, trying to prove that the fault lay with the British, and in particular its drunkard Capt E.J. Smith, who was in cahoots with chairman of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, in pushing the ship to extremes in order to cross the Atlantic against the forces of nature simply to win a bet. This was followed by the stories of the humanity of John Jacob "Colonel Jack" Astor IV, the richest man abroad, who gave up his place in the life-boats for women and children; of the bandmen led by Wallace Hartley, deemed heroes, who kept playing waltzes to the end to keep up morale (the modern way of maintaining the classic Edwardian stiff upper-lip); the goodness of Capt Smith, the crass incompetence in the rescue by the closest ship the US SS Californian, which snowballed with James Cameron's 1997 modern Romeo and Juliet blockbuster Titanic Titanic [1998] [DVD]of the dashing tough street-wise, Jack Dawson (Leonardo Di Caprio), crossing the adventurous class and deck divisions, winning and laying the young rich, innocent and fair Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) - a film hailed by Jiang Zemin, President of China, as a parable of class warfare, in which the proletariat in third class struggle valiantly against the "craven capitalist lapdogs and stooges" of the worthless rich in first class and the ship's crew, which succeeded the myths largely dimmed over time described by Walter Lord in the earlier movie A Night to Remember A Night To Remember / The Making Of A Night To Remember [DVD] [1958].

This book to mark the centenary of the disaster is a social history of the liner's 1,320 passengers, a total of 2,235 souls, including the crew, where they came from, the conditions the lived on board, and the collision. It is well balanced treated as much about first, second, and third class persons, the crew, and the builders.

A lot, naturally, has already appeared in various guises elsewhere - especially about the US rich
as it was much easier to obtain, and will not conclude despite the death of the last survivor Millvina Dean in 2009, because it was an unforgettable moment in time in the history of cross Atlantic population migration when all classes briefly lived together during the danger on real equal terms in the "melting pot", not the melting pot in the real "land of the free" which Americans have always proudly proclaimed. The immigrant poor in third class who survived encountered plentiful good food and comfy, ventilated and spacious berths that they never imagined, and never experienced again for long in their new land, much thanks to the creative skills and forward thinking of interior designer and first class passenger Thomas Andrews. All passengers experienced gracious politeness from the British crew, not expected of US liner stewards. The author also demonstrated that among all classes there were good and bad in all, some trying to adapt themselves to a new life, with others including con-men around the card tables happily living their old lives in new settings, for which moralists may feel some justice may have come to those who caused harm at others' expense.

What is still not doubted, the collision was caused by human error, which the author feels might have been less fatal, and the rescue would have turned out in a markedly distinguished manner had the sailors and women in the life-boats and Capt Lord and his crew on the Californian chosen to behave differently. Should the pet dogs and pigs have been saved at the expense of small boys like the bell and lift boys? Some individuals happened to join Titanic at the last moment because of a strike, others instead pulled out at the last minute for other reasons. Pierpoint Morgan, owner of the White Star, chose to remain in Europe to organise his Paris collection. Students and general readers will always be interested about what might have occurred for want of a particular event having unfolded differently as in the tale of for want of a nail a kingdom was ultimately lost - the start of a new theory and possible myth.

Occasionally, one writer or film director will wish to focus on certain aspects which had previously overlooked. Richard Davenport-Hine has recorded it was the worst event of Little Italy in the Anglo-Italian community, since over of 40 the staff in second class had been recruited by the Gatti restaurant chain of the Strand and Adelphi - a feature still much felt by the mass of Italians scattered around the world.

The real new aspect which the author unearthed was what happened to the survivors and their families. Many of the survivors became walking dead until the end of their days, for long begging to forget that traumatic night until undergoing PTS therapy among other fellow survivors at Titanic gatherings. One, the only Japanese traveller, Masabumi Hosano, found life impossible: he was denounced from surviving while others perished, sacked by the ministry, described by the home media as a coward, and finally died in 1939 a broken man. Arthur Peuchen experienced business reverses: a man of property in 1912, a pauper seventeen years on; others endured fractured marriages. Ben Guggenheim's two daughters, Hazel and Peggy, never recovered from their father's foul watery death, while Pierpoint Morgan who did not sail, died almost a year to the date in March 1913. What is more, the ship's officers were treated as lepers: neither Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More in A Night), nor Third Officer Herbert Pitman, Fourth Officer Boxhall or Fifth Officer Lowe succeeding in receiving a White Star command: their professional lives sank into the dark depths.

The dreaded iceberg, the cause of the drama, just melted away in the Sargasso Sea.

Most old myths will die a natural death and will be replaced by new fresher ones. Recalling the Edwardian swansong before the Great War, Sir Osbert Sitwell imagined the sinking as "a symbol of the approaching fate of Western Civilization" - an old myth with greater solidity. Until new tales and myths germinate readers should enjoy this well-written study. It reminded me what a good film A Night To Remember really was. Happy Birthday Titanic, Happy Birthday to your old and new myths!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 September 2012
This is a fascinating social history of the early 20th century as much as it is a book about the Titanic and the disaster. Covering detailed descriptions of the lives of first, second and third class passengers, both and and off the ship, as well as the crews, shipbuilders, and owners, the author has provided numerous examples from the experiences of those who were involved in the building and maiden ( and last) voyage of the Titanic.

The tragedy of the sinking and its dreadful consequences make for poignant reading in a superbly written account, in the second half of the book, of the voyage and the disaster.

The stratified nature of society in Europe and in the United States at the time is made clear as is the greatly varying behaviour of those on board. This book made me wonder how i would have behaved. Certainly many behaved with great bravery and honour, and the high proportion of women and children who were saved is testament to the courage of many who died that terrible night.

Fascinating, though of course, very sad reading
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on 11 August 2014
I have always been interested in the great ships/liners of the past and seek tv material of that nature .

Of course having an Irish background and coming from a great sea port and its history of ships and liners and ship building ( Camel Lairds ) and actually attending the Titanic expo way back in the mid 80's and amazing that was too in Liverpools Albert Dock , I really wanted the book for me and then maybe pass on to whomever is interested .

A lovely thick book that im sure would make a great present for someone appreciating history and the Famous Boat she was was ..and it will also tell the other exciting tale ...

What more can I say , great evening reading on the safe shores of your settee .
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on 16 March 2012
Having bought and read some ten or more books on the Titanic around the time of the Hollywood blockbuster movie I was drawn to "Lives" by the title phrase "---Migrants and Millionaires etc.". I was not disappointed. The book thoroughly and entertainingly analyses the people involved in every aspect of the voyage. It's a first class piece of social history teasing out all sorts of interesting and relevant facts not, as far as I know, recorded elsewhere. Recommended.
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on 30 January 2012
Words cannot do this book justice! once you start reading,you will not be able to put it down. If you are looking for a clearer understanding of this tragic event this book delivers big time. It provides a real insight into the values of Edwardian society and precisely covers a multitude of aspects surrounding a world shattering event. Having never read any book on this subject for me it ticked all the right boxes and I would strongly recommend it anyone curious and wanting to find out some of the real facts about the Titanic. Invest in it today, you will not be disappointed!
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on 9 June 2012
I suppose this book had to be written. It is a very well written account of the backdrop to and the characters involved in the disaster. That means everyone from the owners of the White Star Line, millionaire businessman and high society, down to crew and poor emigrants from eastern Europe hoping to find wealth in America. The scope and historical backdrop of the book is large and includes accounts of many selected passengers and others both on and off the ship on its maiden voyage. It also creates a beguiling image of time and place and the significance of Titanic and the sinking. There are many facts in here that may surprise you but they are told with an authority that is based on significant historical research. Although I enjoyed the breadth of the book and some of the attention to detail, the book's main strength is also its main weakness. It becomes impossible to become intimately involved with any of the characters because of the sheer number that are included. In the end the book reads more like an history book from the checklist of a University course, rather than an engrossing piece of journalism, or even historical fiction. That said I found it flowed along nicely and managed to tell the story we all now know so well with intellectual flare, dignity and repose. It is also worth reading because it addresses the many false accounts of what happened and as a result seems to balances the books when, for example, it comes to apportioning 'blame' for the disaster. The book doesn't finish when the ship goes down either but also gives an exemplary account of the days and weeks following.
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