Reviewed by Leslie R.,
The Last Crossing of the Lusitania,
by Erik Larson
Many people have heard of the Lusitania and know it was a ship lost to disaster, but Erik Larson tells the story of the ship in his customary riveting way. In May 1915, 10 months into World War I, the passenger vessel R.M.S. Lusitania sailed from New York to Liverpool. The previous "gentlemanly" rules of war would have discouraged German U-boats from attacking a passenger ship, but the rules didn’t apply this time. The fact is the Lusitania was torpedoed and sank quickly with great loss of life. But mysteries remain: Why didn't the top-secret British intelligence agency that was tracking the movements of the U-boat warn the Lusitania? What was then Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill's motive for not warning the ship? Was the Lusitania purely a passenger vessel, or was there other, war-related cargo on board?
Larson switches viewpoints between the passengers, the crew of the U-boat, and the politicians. The book reads like an adventure novel and it’s all the more interesting for being history rather than fiction. It’s also an eye-opening view of life on a submarine. I’ll never feel the same about Winston Churchill after reading Dead Wake.