How to Survive the Titanic: or, The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay
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How to Survive the Titanic: or, The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  320 ratings  ·  88 reviews
A brilliantly original and gripping new look at the sinking of the Titanic through the prism of the life and lost honor of J. Bruce Ismay, the ship’s owner

Books have been written and films have been made, we have raised the Titanic and watched her go down again on numerous occasions, but out of the wreckage Frances Wilson spins a new epic: when the ship hit the iceberg on...more
Hardcover, 329 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Harper (first published August 1st 2011)
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There’s a book about the Titanic that you’ve never read. It’s called MGY (after Titanic’s wireless call sign) and weighs in at 620 Microsoft Word ’95 pages. It was written in a wood-paneled basement from 1996 to 1999. It was never edited, spell-checked or proofed. It was printed on a rickety printer, using two reams of paper and an extra ink cartridge. Each page was inserted into a clear plastic protector, and placed in a massive teal binder, so that it resembles the safety protocols of a nuclea...more
Firstly, if I wanted to read about Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim," I'd read the novel myself rather than someone else's book report on the subject. That Frances Wilson decided to pepper her book with detailed descriptions of the Conrad novel is to the book's detriment. I found myself skipping over those sections until I found content relating to Bruce Ismay or the Titanic story because I found the "Lord Jim" content irrelevant. True: Conrad's story is eerily similar to what Ismay did as the Titanic...more
Part I of the book was an interesting read about the coming of age of J Bruce Ismay as well as the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic told through the lens of senate inquiries.

Part II so far seems as it should be a wholly separate book. It begins with a critical analysis and Cliff Notes version of Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad then becomes a biography of Conrad's life with cursory linkages to Ismay and the Titanic incident. It thus far appears to be wholly irrelevant to the supposed purpose of...more
Oct 09, 2011 Nancy marked it as to-read
I will not be finishing this one. There was a time when I would have read every word and been fascinated by it. It is extremely well researched and fairly comprehensive in describing the Titanic and Bruce Ismay's life and fall.

Frances Wilson has gathered documents and interviews of survivors of the Titanic and those surrounding Ismay, the token White Line Shipping owner who hopped aboard a lifeboat while the Titanic was sinking. This is significant because he and Captain Smith, and Thomas Andrew...more
Rhiannon Ryder
Ever have a really bad day where, say, you call someone names at work and maybe back into someones car on the way out of the grocery parking lot and then, I don't know, cut a thumb off while cooking dinner? Well next time this happens you can take comfort in the thought that it could have been much worse. You could be J. Bruce Ismay, and spend your life known as the man who jumped on a lifeboat as the Titanic was sinking. While hundreds of women and children were still on board. Oh right, and he...more
Sarah Beth
I won this book as a giveaway on Goodreads. I was somewhat disappointed with this book. Like a lot of people, I have a fascination with the Titanic, but instead of an intriguing new look at the Titanic story, I found a dry novel that reminded me of a long-winded scholarly article. I did like Wilson's approach as she looked at the Titanic through the lens of the ship's owner, Bruce Ismay. However, less than a story about the Titanic, this was a cultural/social analysis of the time period that con...more
Sarah (Head Stuck In A Book)
I gave this book 2.5/5 stars

Before I start this review I have to say that I'm a huge Titanic fan, if I ever see a book I don't have I buy it even if it's the same story over and over again.
I was so excited when I received this book to review it was about the Titanic and I was always interested to know what happened to Ismay after the sinking of the Titanic and the American and British Inquiries into the sinking.
Unfortunately I wasn't a big fan of this book at all, the parts about the Titanic and...more

The trouble with this book is it has a distressingly tendency to (forgive me) go off course.

When the book focuses on Titanic and the owner J. Bruce Ismay, it is a fascinating new examination of the one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters, filled with eye witness statements, interesting facts about the ship and her passengers and crew, and the fall out of what happened after the ship went under.

However, I did not pick up a book about Titanic in order to read about the life and works of Jose...more
Can a tragedy the size of the Titanic be blamed on just one man? This is the question Wilson attempts to answer by looking at Ismay's upbringing, the American and British investigations of the sinking of the Titanic, and shedding light on how he spent his later years. Throughout the book much mention is made of Joseph Conrad, especially his novel Lord Jim as the story can be seen as paralleling Ismay's life. I haven't read Conrad's novel, but I didn't feel like this fact alienated me from the st...more
Chris Taylor
oh dear. Started off well, ran through section one then came section 2, it all (pardon the pun) sank from there.

This book reads like an academic study comparing ismay to conrad's character "jim" which would be fine, interesting if it wasn't so secondary school, no depth, no real insite. I fail to see why so much narrative is repeated over and over, we are introduced to the character and the author and whereas it is remarkable how similar they are....pages and pages are spend on explaining what...more
What destroyed this book for me were the constant references to Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim," which was about a sailor who abandoned his ship leaving hundreds of passengers behind. The author was comparing fiction with fact but it ruined what could have been a much better book. Not having known anything about J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the Titanic, he was certainly not a lovable kind of guy. He was depressed, morose, untalkative, undemonstrative, had a horrible marriage (treated his wife as if s...more
While some reviewers found it irritating, I liked how the author attempted to draw parallels between Ismay and Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim. In some aspects the literary comparisons reached a bit (and were perhaps over-used), but overall it was an interesting take on the disaster and its aftermath. This was my first book about the Titanic, however, so I'll be interested in how I'll feel after I've read other books about it. I also enjoyed the discussion of how wireless communication impacted (or fai...more
The story of the Titanic still holds interest today which prompted my reading of this biography of J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the White Star Line, who was aboard their proudest ship, the Titanic, when it sank on April 14-15, 1912. As Ismay chose to jump into a lifeboat instead of going down with the ship, much criticism has been lodged in his direction, especially since it was his decision to not have more lifeboats. Ismay was one of the few people who knew when the Titanic started sinking...more
This was something I picked up at whim at B&N. One good thing about the anniversary of the Titanic is the overflow of new books and History Channel specials. Of course, I was compelled to this one because of the primary focus on J. Bruce Ismay. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed.

Of course, my disappointment had nothing to do with the research or writing of How to Survive the Titanic. It was incredibly well-researched, and every word is carefully thought out. An detailed portrayal o...more
I have read many books about the sinking of the Titanic, some factual and others to do with the first hand accounts of survivors themselves but this is the first book I have read on J. Bruce Ismay.

I'm sure we all have made up our minds about Mr Ismay, whether he was a coward for getting in a lifeboat or whether he should have taken his chances on board like the other gentlemen.

This is his story, his testimony at the U.S. Senate Inquiry into the sinking as well as the British Board of Trade Inqui...more
How to Survive the Titanic is great history -- always seeking to understand, sympathetic, literate, witty, and, in the end, tragic.
The book begins with two quotes, one from J. Bruce Ismay, owner of the Titanic, at the New York inquest about the tragedy: "I took the chance when it came to me. I did not seek it." The other is from Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim: "Ah! What a chance missed! My God! What a chance missed!"
The chance Ismay was referring to, of course, was the chance to save his life, and st...more
I finally received my ARC that I won on Goodreads (Thanks, Goodreads!) This is now queued up among my other to-read books. Someday I will have the pleasure of digging into the book in its totality- but for now, I merely offer first impressions. Judging a book by its cover (shame on me), I would say this looks pretty good. I love the sort of newspaper vibe the jacket design projects. The blurbs on the back are appealing, and I believe I will enjoy the perspective it promises to take. Instead of t...more
Ever since my Titanic fascination started, I've had a soft spot for Ismay. I felt he was tormented by the American press and thought it extremely unfair to put all the blame on his shoulders. Yet if he had "died like a hero," as other men did on the Titanic (did they even have a choice?), he possibly wouldn't have had his name tarnished as it was when living, by the press.

And so goes the story of J. Bruce Ismay. I was excited to finally purchase this book. Ever since I saw it, I was dying to get...more
"How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay" was a nonfiction novel about the events that preceded the sinking of the Titanic and what happened to Ismay afterwards. J. Bruce Ismay owned the Titanic and the whole line of ships she belonged to (White Star), and after escaping the sinking on what is speculated to be the first lifeboat to leave, became an icon for the world to debate over. In the novel, author Frances Wilson starts out strong giving a well-written account of the sin...more
Jill Hutchinson
I almost gave this book another star but there were sections that slowed down the narrative which kept me from saying "really liked it". The author tells the tale of J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, who jumped into one of the last lifeboats to leave the sinking Titanic and lived to regret that decision. He is painted as a very unlikeable individual and his personality added other dimensions to the scorn of the public when he had to face up to his actions. His appearance...more
Doug Dams
I've always been fascinated with The Titanic and thought this book might lend some insight. It's not a quick read or a page turner by any means. The main theme of the book is the parallel between J. Bruce Ismay and the book by Joseph Conrod called Lord Jim. I haven't read Lord Jim so some of this was lost on me. The book dealt a lot with who was a coward or who was a hero and how the press and people judged the survivors. But I did get some interesting facts about the sinking and why the British...more
I am a huge Titanic fan and before I begin my review, I have to say I have a slight connection with the historic event.

I live in Green Bay, Wisconsin which since 1834 had pretty much been owned by millionaire John Jacob Astor (Senior). Living in the Green Bay area in 1912 was Dr. William Edward Minahan. A very well-liked man/physican and one of the most prominent families in the Green Bay area. The Astor and Minahan families became friends. Dr. Minahan along with his wife and sister boarded the...more
J. Bruce Ismay had been portrayed in an unfavorable light, in Titanic books and films, if I remember correctly, fair or not. When I discovered this book, I was curious to learn the real J. Bruce Ismay and to see the Titanic tragedy through his eyes, if possible. What was his life like before and after and for his family?

It appears that the author, Frances Wilson had done extensive research, judging by her notes and bibliography. So I felt confident that what was written painted a fair portrait o...more
Emma Campbell
It was really quite interesting to see a new perspective on Bruce Ismay's life and his actions with regards to the Titanic. However, although this book did influence my knowledge of the Bruce Ismay significantly, I felt that Wilson didn't stick to the point, which personally I would have preferred. Throughout the book, Wilson compared Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, and some other works, to Bruce Ismay's life. I felt this was unnecessary and drifted from the point of the book. I didn't need to know th...more
Amanda Wheet
Wilson's work is somewhere between a literary dissertation and a biography, yet it appears to have no linear elements. While the division of the book into two parts, At Sea and On Land, makes sense, the chapters within appear to have blur these lines. Included in On Land is a lengthy, PhD candidate style summation and analysis of Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim." While Wilson has used this novel as a parallel to Ismay throughout At Sea, she devotes an entire chapter to essentially retelling the story...more
Ronald Kelland
I have had a fascination with the Titanic since I was a child. As a historian, I have developed an interest in those people identified in history as the "villains." This book seemed likely to satisfy both fascinations and, for the most part it succeeds. J. Bruce Ismay, Managing Director of the White Star Line, survived the disaster by stepping into a life raft while hundreds of others went down with the ship, froze or drowned in the North Atlantic. Ismay may have survived the wreck, but his repu...more
This book had the potential to be so much more. J. Bruce Ismay is to some a set piece villain, to others a scapegoat. With our 21st century understanding of the human psyche, this was the time to present J. Bruce Ismay the flawed and recognisable man. Instead the author gives us half a book re-presenting the same old information and half dubious book review and hero worship of Conrad. Conrad's "Lord Jim" was not inspired by the events that took place that April night. It's place in this book is...more
Feb 15, 2012 Natalya rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History and Literature lovers
Recommended to Natalya by: First-reads
Shelves: first-reads
I was lucky to receive this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

I have never read a book quite like this. It is a detailed history, relying heavily on intensive primary source research. Yet throughout, it quotes and refers to poetry and classic literature to aid in evoking the profundity and sensations that Frances Wilson wanted to illustrate. As a history major, I have read and referred to many histories crafted from dense and prolific primary sources such as this one, and have never en...more
Chad Bullard
The “Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay” showed another side to the Titanic story that most people today probably never give much thought. This story is more about what is going on when the Carpathia arrives in New York and what transpires thereafter than just the sinking of the Titanic. Frances Wilson goes over the trial and story that ensues when the survivors return to New York. It is hard to tell what Ismay thinks about this trial because he only shared his thoughts in his letters to Mrs. Marian Thay...more
Girl with her Head in a Book
The title of this one attracted me, then I was put off to realise that it was all about Ismay but I had a change of heart again when I read a review of it so decided to give it a go. For people who don't like to read all about a shipwreck that happened a century ago in their spare time, Ismay was the moustache man in the dressing gown who jumped in to the lifeboat unlike the other noble crew members who Went Down With The Ship. The week after I read this, I was able to go to the Titanic museum i...more
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Frances Wilson was educated at Oxford University and lectured on nineteenth- and twentieth-century English literature for fifteen years before becoming a full-time writer. Her books includeLiterary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted ReadersandThe Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life, which won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. She reviews widely in the British press and is a f...more
More about Frances Wilson...
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