Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to Survive the Titanic or the Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay by Frances Wilson

Why I read it: Centennial of the event, plus, hey, it's maritime history.

Summary: The Titanic disaster as examined through the life of the White Star Line owner.

My Thoughts: Thank god it wasn't me.

What would you do? You're the head of the firm that owns the ship that's going down on its maiden voyage, the largest moving thing on earth. You see an open spot on a lifeboat and know that by taking it you can live to fight another day. But you know that there are not enough lifeboats to fit every passenger - the Titanic sinking? Unthinkable! - and undoubtedly people will die.

And therein is the beauty of the approach taken in this book. The great ethic and moral question presented to us all must be answered. In the boat, or not?

Moreover, though, Wilson takes another unexpected course, winding us through the story of Lord Jim and a similar fictitious tragedy that was published 12 years before Titanic. With Lord Jim, Ismay hasd a kindred spirit, one whom he probably never met in the pages of Joseph Conrad's book.

Drawing heavily from inquiry testimonials, Wilson conducts her own cross-examination of Ismay, showing his inconsistencies and the muddiness of the final moments aboard the ship. Did he help others into lifeboats, or did he just race for his own seat? And the inquiries themselves! When Ismay stood up to questioning, it ultimately was aimed at finding out why, when others had died, did he live? Any good captain goes down with his ship (and he did). But what of the owner?

What would you do?

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