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Sometimes informative but also sometimes careless or lazy
on 26 April 2014
Unlike the wreck of the Titanic, that of the Lusitania is in relatively shallow (about 90 metres or 300 feet) waters off the Irish coast. Once located, the dives were relatively easy for someone with his experience of diving on other large wrecks.
The book's title may lead the reader to believe that its prime coverage would be related to his dives, the subject of several TV series over many years. In fact only about 50 of its 200-plus pages are related to the dives and the remainder is historical, replicated from other sources and much often available elsewhere. A few rarely seen photographs and some probably commissioned illustrations fill the gaps.
Ballard may have had some preconceptions, or accepted without reason or proof the beliefs of others, and thus may have been blinkered when examining the wreck and analysing available evidence. Errors and omissions resulted and the viewing, and now reading, public were misled.
This is a coffee-table-size book lavishly illustrated with some of Ballard's photography and much from the time when Lusitania was sailing the Atlantic. It is not exclusively about the ship's sinking, locating and diving on its wreck or those who were lost - some were saved - but includes all of those and much, much more. It is a thoroughly interesting book to read, partly because of its human stories. However, in Ballard's TV documentaries, certain 'facts' were included based upon isolated scattering of some of its coal, and they were widely accepted. Ballard over-stated the facts and there was far too little coal surrounding the wreck for Ballard's conclusions to be correct. That error is repeated here. Ballard also failed to check, analyse and comprehend certain available data which later authors accessed and analysed that, had he done so, he may have better understood why the disaster was as dramatic as it was and why the sinking was so unexpectedly rapid - it was thought that it may stay afloat for more than two hours (as managed by the Titanic with far more extensive physical damage) but sank within 18 minutes of the torpedo strike. It is also possible that Ballard may have deliberately avoided the uncomfortable truths to preserve the old controversy.
If read without knowing the more thoroughly researched work of other writers, it would appear to be a perfectly acceptable effort. But with the evidence that others provide and which Ballard failed either to find or to correctly research and interpret, it suffers by comparison.
Originally published almost 20 years ago and probably no longer in print, I was able to find a used copy for a fraction of its original cover price which was as good as fresh off the shelf. However, its title is misleading and too little of its contents is truly original. It is therefore a disappointment.