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A Night to Remember

A Night to RememberA Night to Remember by Walter Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In April during the centennial observances, I read an article in the New Yorker about the various treatments of the Titanic story. It commented that all the movies and miniseries added drama to the story. The author felt this was unnecessary, because the story itself had sufficient drama. His example for this was Walter Lord's A Night to Remember.

Published in 1955, Lord's telling is based on his thorough research, including interviews with still-living survivors. Here are the real stories of that night as told by the people themselves. And you don't need fictionalized romances, fictionalized daring escapes, or fictionalized jewels. All that is in the real story.

You also get the story of the other boats -- the Carpathia, which came quickly and heroically to the rescue, and the Californian, which sat ten miles off all night watching the Titanic fire rockets and wondering what was going on.

Lord also understands the larger cultural issues of the Titanic story -- how it changed culture and why it still captivates us. This was a breaking point for the world of established wealth and privilege. Never again would people accept class differences quite the same. And the admired rich shifted from the established wealthy to entertainers and sports figures.

Also, people were never more so sure of themselves. The Titanic came at the end of a 100 years of ever improving technology and understanding, with no major European wars. After this tragedy came war and the rest of the 20th century:

"The unending sequence of disillusionment that has followed can't be blamed on the Titanic, but she was the first jar. Before the Titanic, all was quiet. Afterward all was tumult. That is why, to anybody who lived at the time, the Titanic more than any other single event marks the end of the old days, and the beginning of a new, uneasy era."

But that sort of commentary is kept to a minimum. The book is primarily story and brief character sketches. And it is engaging. I started it last night after work and couldn't go to sleep until I'd finished it.

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