on 17 June 2003
I'd never heard of the Lusitania before visiting Cobh in Co Cork Ireland a few years ago. Since then I'd looked for an accessible account of the tragedy and have now found it.
The book is comprehensively sourced and researched, covering a lot of unseen material. However, the book's true strength is its accessibility, it is objective yet highly empathic, the story telling is like a thriller and once you start reading, it is impossible to put down.
Whether you are interested in this period of history or simply looking for a facinating read about a little known episode, I would highly recommend this. You will not be disappointed.
As a leading reporter from the Sunday Times said about this work; “It is not easy, nowadays, to write an original book on the First World War… but Preston has succeeded.” My own view is equally as supportive in that I recognise a thorough and competent job of research when I see it and this book is at least that!
As I have said on several previous occasions, not all so-called authors understand the complexities of research. Such an undertaking is not just a matter of reading (perhaps translating) and understanding whatever information comes to hand and then producing an accurate and unbiased account, it is also a matter of finding that information - which might be located anywhere in the world and in any format. In the case of the Lusitania, four countries were directly involved; UK, USA, Germany and, of course, Ireland where she was sunk. Personal theories, expert analysis’, political intrigue, survivors accounts, photographs, cemeteries, newspaper articles and official findings (to mention but a small number of areas of interest) are, therefore, spread far and wide. Add to that the passage of time (with little or none of the information being readily available on the Internet), and you might just begin to appreciate the amount of work which has gone into making this book an absolute triumph of dedicated research.
With almost 600 pages ofn text plus extensive index and bibliography supported by a good selection of black and white photos, cartoons of the day and press cuttings, this is probably the most comprehensive account of the loss of the Lusitania there will ever be. First published in 2002, Preston draws on hitherto previously unpublished British, USA and German archive material in a successful bid to answer so many questions which refused to go away after the loss of this magnificent ship on 7 May 1915 with over 1,200 of those who were on board at the time.
Why did Cunard ignore those German advertisements which warned that they regarded the ship as a legitimate target of war? Had Cunard been infiltrated by German agents? Was the ship carrying military, warlike stores? Was the ship armed? Was it the loss of the ship which heralded America’s entry into WW1 or overwhelming public outrage? Conversely, was the Lusitania deliberately sacrificed in order to get the USA into that war to support the Allies at a critical time?
Those are just a few of the questions which have been asked over the years and I earnestly believe that this book is the one single work which will help every reader arrive at their own conclusions.
On top of that, Diana Preston is an author who has the gift of arranging words in such a way as to make the entire product a thoroughly enjoyable read and there is no better commendation for any book than that.
on 8 October 2004
I am currently on a non-fiction kick, and as someone with an interest in the First World War picked this up at my local bookshop. I was aware that the sinking of the Lusitania was shocking and controversial when it occurred, however had not read anything more than superficial accounts of the tragedy.
The Ms Preston triumphs here by making the first large scale naval attack on civillians seem (in light of the current world climate) topical and relevant to today. She takes the reader through the history and development of the transatlantic ocean liners, which by the beginning of the War were at the peak of their "golden age", and submarine technology which by then was still very much in it's infancy. The details of the passengers aboard the fated voyage give the book a humanising, more immediate feel - I found myself thinking of this novel in terms of the September 11 attacks of three years ago, the worldwide revulsion at the deaths of over twelve hundred people in the sinking shocked and saddened the world then as the more recent attacks have done to us. The exploration of the political ramifications of the attack on the Lusitania for Germany, Britain and the USA are also very interesting, however I did find myself becoming a little bogged down in some of the technical detail toward the end. A great read, I look forward to reading some more of this author's work.
The centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German torpedo on 7 May 1915 passed almost unnoticed in this country. Partly this may have been because the equivalent day this year was general election day, but more fundamentally this tragedy does not for most people have the same resonance as that of the Titanic, probably because it took place during the most destructive war the world had seen at that stage. Despite the obvious difference in circumstances, there were a number of similarities, not least in the profile of the different classes of passengers on board the ship and a similarity in terms of the numbers of dead and the proportion of survivors (roughly one third). While there were more than enough lifeboats on the Lusitania, many were smashed against the side of the listing ship, or were not properly maintained so could not be used to the proper extent or at all. This book is perhaps slightly overlong, but goes into great detail on the political and military backdrop of the early stages of the war and unrestricted submarine warfare, the intentions of the actors on both sides and the alternative explanations for the second explosion that was heard after the torpedo hit (probably caused by an explosion in the steamlines between the boilers and turbines). This is probably the definitive work on this tragedy that had a profound effect on the course of the First World War and US involvement not only in that war, but in world affairs more generally.
on 2 September 2003
Since the sinking of the "Lusitania" in May 1915 she has been political fodder, the stuff of legend and the darling of conspiracy theorists. Preston's latest book not only gives truly harrowing accounts of the liner's sinking, but also explains why and how the "Lusitania" sank and the role the three governments (British, American and German) played in her demise.
The only, slight, criticism of the narrative is that Preston's knowledge of other ocean liners (the "Lusitania's" rivals) is a little hazy. She totally ignores the LUSITANIA's first major rival, the "Olympic," and erroneously states that the "Titanic" came into service in 1911.
Apart from that however, I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
on 3 July 2015
"Wilful Murder" tells the story of the sinking of the SS Lusitania by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915. Almost 1200 people lost their lives, including 38 Americans. This fine book discusses the many questions raised by the sinking. Why was the Lusitania not steaming at full speed? Why wasn't it escorted by the Royal Navy? Why did it sail round the south coast of Ireland when U-boats had been reported in the area? Was it carrying arms or Canadian soldiers? Did the sinking bring the United States into the War? The official inquiry into the sinking concluded that its cause was wilful murder by the Germans, but the Captain of the Lusitania was felt by some to share at least part of the blame. Conspiracy theories abound! On the whole, Diana Preston presents the facts and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions - fascinating stuff!. Highly recommended.
on 12 April 2015
I bought this book as it was coming up to the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania and I wanted to learn more about what happened and why it happened. I certainly was not disappointed.
I liked the way the author not only gives an account of what happened, but also explains the context behind why the Lusitania was so important to the British, but also why it was seen as a legitimate target by the Germans.
All in all, it was a very informative book and written in a style which flows nicely and is informative without being too technical to follow
There are several books that examine in part or whole various aspects of the loss of the Lusitania which, unlike that of the Titanic about 3 years earlier, occurred in wartime when it was torpedoed by a German submarine with a remarkably similar loss of lives. Unlike the Titanic, which sank mid-Atlantic in deep waters close to the Arctic Circle, the Lusitania sank a few miles of the Southern Irish coast and in shallow water. Britain and the USA long complained about Germany's action as the given justifications for the sinking were largely proven to be unfounded. Only one was proven to be substantially true, and that related to large quantities of small calibre munitions and partially manufactured shells and fuses that formed part of the cargo.
Much of the book concentrates upon the vessel's final voyage, those on-board including its crew and officers, its famous passengers and those not so famous, whether or not they survived the incident and their respective backgrounds and experiences during their few days on-board. The absence of a significant proportion of its peacetime crew to military service and their less experienced replacements may have further endangered the lives of many. The rescue attempts to recover survivors and their landing in Ireland and the later events in some of those people's lives form an important element and are also explored in great detail. The consequential enquiries into the sinking, political wranglings in Britain, Germany and the US regarding the arguments for and against the attack and the not unrelated later entry into WW1 of US forces are also covered in depth. There is even a discussion of the possible causes of the still-unexplained second explosion and the science of explosives and explosive mixtures and the physics of ship construction as they are (or may be) of relevance and importance.
The book also includes, for reasons of completeness, the several ineffectual attempts to raise the vessel, dives to investigate the wreck in the years between WWI and WWII including the relatively more recent series conducted by Robert Ballard, previously credited with locating and diving upon the wrecks of the Titanic and the WWII German battleship, Bismark. The coverage of the subject is very thorough and rounded covering aspects that others may have ignored or failed to consider, without undue favour to any of the three countries most involved.
A comprehensive List of Sources and a large Bibliography are added for further research, as is a comprehensive Index. Probably the best book overall on the subject.
Before I read this book I knew very little about the sinking of the Lusitania. However, this excellent book certainly answers any questions I may have had. I knew the basic facts that on May 7th 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German u-boat in the Atlantic and over 1,200 people died. I was, though, unsure of why a passenger ship was a target. The author answers that question and more - why didn't Cunard heed the warnings that the ship was a target? Was the ship armed? Did international outrage change the outcome of WWI? Was she even sacrificed with the hope that American would come into the war?
The author begins with background on the war and American neutrality. German submarines disrupted transatlantic trade and challenged the accepted rules of war. The Germans issued a warning about the danger to shipping just before the Lusitania travelled, but most passengers ignored the warning, feeling the ship could easily outrun submarines and would be protected when she neared England and escorted to safety. There are excellent chapters about the passengers and life on board and, of course, as we are told about the various people on board, you cannot help but feel empathy for them. It seems almost inconceivable that a ship of passengers was seen as a viable target, but this was the beginning of war coming to the lives of ordinary people. Within eighteen minutes of being torpedoed, the ship had gone down. We follow the stories of chaos, of people unsure what to do, of the ship listing so badly lifeboats could not be lowered, of the horrible loss of life. Some passengers thought the efforts to launch the boats disgraceful, yet there are also stories of immense bravery and courage.
The stories of the survivors and the reaction of the press are also given great detail and make fascinating reading. The German press applauded the attack, but were surprised at the worlds reaction. The book shows the far reaching political and propaganda implications of the sinking of the Lusitania and how the Americans reacted to the attack. Overall, this is a wonderfully written, in-depth, yet readable, account of the disaster. Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and it included illustrations.
on 13 December 2012
I have just finished reading "Wilful Murder" by Diana Preston. I have an interest in reading books dealing with historical facts but approached the reading of this book with some trepidation. After all, "The Lusitania" sank almost a hundred years ago, surely we know all we need to know and a book with close to 600 pages of text on this subject was a little daunting. I was wrong! It is a remarkably well researched book and a thoroughly interesting read. Diana Preston begins with the background to the Lusitania, giving details of the first ships to make crossings of the Atlantic. She also gives us a brief historical background to submarines. She moves on and concentrates on the passengers and the crew on the Lusitania, giving anecdotes and deals with the ships last voyage when she was sunk by the German U-boat U20 and disappeared in 300 feet of water in just 18 minutes. The depth of detail is fantastic and the personal tales of the survivors harrowing and difficult reading. Her conclusions on responsibility and whether it was "Wilful Murder" and by whom are well worth reading. I thoroughly recommend the book.