Skip to main content

Cannonball Read #8: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

Yes, another Cannonball Read entry. It's been sort of exhilarating to do so much reading--I'd really gotten out of the habit the past few years, and now that I have a goal and a motivational push (my goal right now is to try and keep pace with Mr. Controversy and Figgy, who seem to moving at about the same speed I am) I have been getting an awful lot of reading done. It also helps that I've discovered Half.com where I can order books for basically the cost of shipping (yes, I know about libraries, but our local book-den is kind of pathetic, and besides, I like to KEEP my books.)

Walter Lord's A Night to Remember is another addition to my strangely expanding "nautical disasters" book list. It's another book about the Titanic, this one written in 1955. Lord had the opportunity to interview more than 60 of the wreck's survivors, and he compiled a detailed narrative account of the disaster from the perspective of those who were there, beginning with the lookout who first saw the ice burg all the way to the passengers on the steamer Carpathia who were jolted awake in the middle of the night by the frantic dash to try and rescue survivors.

This book is far less technical than Ghosts of the Titanic, because it is based solely on survivor accounts rather than on an scientific exploration of the wreckage (the wreckage would not be discovered until the mid 1980s, long after this book was not only completed but already made into a TV movie--at Lord's time, it was still believed the ship had sunk as one whole piece, which we now know to be incorrect). There is much more detail here about what life was like on the ship--who the passengers were, where they were coming from, and how they spent their time. There are also details about the ship itself, about how the rooms looked, how the dining rooms functioned, about the staff and the crew and what their positions entailed. There are accounts from the crew of the Carpathia, testifying to heroic actions taken by themselves and their captain which helped save many lives. This story is much more human than clinical; Lord didn't have the luxury of science yet, he had only the survivors and the benefit of their 40 years of reflection, as well as news reports and the transcripts from various trials.

Lord also has a chapter which touches on the impact of Titanic on society at large--the only chapter that really takes us out of the narrative and allows Lord to voice some of his own personal opinions. In his mind, Titanic shook the confidence of the western world. That something seen as a beacon of modern strength and ingenuity--something thought to be well nigh invincible--could fail so spectacularly was a shock. If even the massive Titanic was fallible, what COULD be counted on? Lord also muses on the effect the tragedy had on class separation in the US--the fact that 75% of 1st class passengers and perhaps only 15% of 3rd class passengers survived says a lot about how things were done on the Titanic, and by extension in the world at large. Lord draws no solid conclusions, but asks a lot of questions for the reader to think about.

This is a well-known book about the Titanic, and a reference point for many scholars who have gone on to write about the disaster, since Lord had the most original sources. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Titanic, or who wants a tight, gripping read.

Comments

Mr. Controversy said…
I remembered being assigned to read this one in Middle School, when it was the hot research topic for all the kids. (Our Social Studies teacher took it off the research paper topic list because of that.) I might have to go back and read that now.

As for reading itself, I find myself agreeing with you that it's refreshing and quite the mental workout. My girlfriend reads at a MUCH faster pace than myself, so it's fun to finally try and catch up to her. Best of luck in your literary endeavors, my friend.

Popular posts from this blog

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #2 - Southern Gods

I've had Southern Gods on my TBR list for so long I no longer remember why I put it there. Was it a recommendation from Amazon? From Goodreads? Did someone I know recommend it? Did it cross my path as a "If you liked __________ then you'll like this too!"

Maybe I heard it through the grapevine?

I only know that recently, I happened to come across it on my wishlist and decided to go ahead and splurge on it.

I'm glad I did.

In 1951 Memphis, war veteran and leg-breaker-for-hire Bull Ingraham gets a new assignment: a record company has lost one of their employees somewhere. Early Freeman set off to deliver new records to radio stations, and has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. His boss at Helios Records is anxious to find him...and also anxious to find a mysterious blues musician whose music can do terrible things to the living -- and to the dead.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Sarah Rheinhart leaves her abusive husband and returns to her family home, where …

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their co…