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A bit cut-and-paste but still interesting
on 22 April 2012
What the author seems to have done is essentially a 'cut & paste' job - trawl libraries and other resources for newspaper reports both before and after the sinking, and then compile them in a book. This explains why other reviewers say that it is repetitive. Reading this book is a bit like buying all the national newspapers on the day of a major event, like 9/11, and reading them (and doing so again for a while thereafter). Many will give you a slightly different angle but you quickly feel bored due to repetition. The author does write introductions to the stories and the book's Introduction itself is interesting, so it is not purely a cut & paste job.
On the other hand, if you set aside the natural inaccuracy of newspaper reporting, newspaper reports from a few days after the event, reporting survivors' stories, are likely to be more accurate than Hollywood versions.
For example, one report tells the story of, as a lifeboat is being lowered, a person in the lifeboat telling the reporter: 'A number of other passengers, mostly men, were standing near by (sic) and they joked with us because we were going out on the ocean. "The ship can't sink", said one. "You'll catch your death of cold out there in the ice".'
Another newspaper report, from the Boston Post on 20th April 1912 (see what I mean about contemporaneous reporting?) concerns an interview with a survivor who saw a mother and her six children being allowed onto the interviewee's lifeboat but the father being denied entry. The newspaper story states ' "Let him come with me. Oh please let him come with me", she pleaded. "I don't want to live if he can't come. There will be nobody to earn bread for my little children", she wailed. But the officers wouldn't let the father go. "I'll stay with my husband then", the woman cried. I saw her clinging to her husband and children just before I left the vessel. That was the last I ever saw of her. The whole family went down together". It's terribly, terribly sad. You can see both the foolishness of her decision and why she did it.
The book gives a passenger list, compiled by ticket/job type (First, Second, Steerage & Crew, with Crew sub-divided by job type), with survivors in bold. It is interesting seeing the approximate percentage of survivors by class or crew's job (I say approximate as the list is just a list - there is no analysis included). For example, many men and many people in Steerage survived. Many men made it into lifeboats (and some newspaper reports in the book state survivors not realising that there were men in the lifeboats until the sun rose). Many sections of crew had heavy losses but two sections stuck out by being 100% in bold - Quartermasters and Lookout men (7 and 6 in total respectively).
So, the book is repetitive and reads less like a book and more like a relative's scrapbook containing newspaper clippings of the disaster. I got it in the Spring Sale and am pleased I did not pay full price for it. Maybe it is better for dipping into, to read newspaper report by newspaper report.
* Edit 10/5/12: I've upgraded my rating for the book from 3 to 4 stars for two reasons. Firstly, I've found myself coming back to the book (it IS far better read in small doses). Secondly, the book mentions a few incidents which give you an insight into how it was not obvious to those on board how perilous a situation they were in - for example, the book quotes Mrs William T. Graham speaking to Howard Case:
'On the deck we met Howard Case... ...I asked his advice, because I had already seen one boatload of passengers lowered and I wanted to know if it would be safer to stay on board. Mr Case advised us to get into a boat. "And what are you going to do?" we asked him. "Oh," he replied. "I'll take a chance and stay here."
That's an example of the Historian's Fallacy.
I wondered if Mr Case realised his error and survived. I realised I didn't need to wonder as the answer was in the book - in the passenger list. His name was there but not in bold. Mrs William T. Graham was in bold.
Likewise, I've found myself using the passenger list in this book as a reference source. For example, a TV programme mentioned an incident and the name of the passengers concerned. It didn't say if they survived. So I looked them up in this book. While that's slightly morbid, it connects you slightly more to the tragedy - it is a relief when you find out that they did survive.
I found the application of the Historian's Fallacy to this book haunting. Historian's Fallacy reared its ugly head in 9/11 too - see my review of '102 Minutes' for more details. What seems obvious now was not obvious to those living the event.