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Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster
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Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  165 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
Everyone from suffragists to their opponents; radicals, reformers, and capitalists; critics of technology and modern life; racists and xenophobes and champions of racial and ethnic equality; editorial writers and folk singers, preachers and poets found moral and cultural lessons in the sinking of the Titanic.

In a new edition that both commemorates the one hundredth anniver
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 26th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1996)
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Jun 17, 2015 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: titanic, commentary
Steven Biel’s Down with the Old Canoe is a cultural history of the Titanic disaster. Cultural histories explore the way that a culture interprets an event through various prisms. At a certain level, I find these examinations exceedingly entertaining, if not profoundly enlightening. But at another level, I always have the gnawing sense that cultural histories try to prove too much. I always question: Is this really the cultural interpretation of a historical moment, or the interpretation of a qua ...more
Feb 11, 2011 Jessica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am one of the flunky, armchair historians who does believe that the sinking did have some interesting parallels to other events in early 20th century history. Biel makes fun of me (and others who think like me) early in the book.

Gag. I love how highbrow Biel tried to be throughout the book. His nose was so far up in the air. And, this is the same guy, who in this very book, explained the deep cultural meaning behind Danielle Steel's "No Greater Love," and the "Rambo" movies. Oh, and "Back to t
Tony Held
Mar 28, 2015 Tony Held rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
From his arrogant introduction to his thinly disguised slamming of historians such as Walter Lord and George Behe, Steven Biel's "Down With The Old Canoe" is but an exercise in scholarly snobbery. The first part of Biel's book contains some interesting nuggets of information about people's reactions to the disaster, but his thinly disguised hint that none of the male passengers escaped from the Titanic as they claimed to have is ridiculous and backed by not so much as a shred of evidence. Biel's ...more
Sean Chick
Jun 11, 2016 Sean Chick rated it really liked it
Few books have been this satisfying and intelligent while also disappointing and predictable. Biel is a critic to his bone; as such the sadness of 1,500 people needlessly dying generates no heartfelt passages. Nor does the discovery of the Titanic elicit any wonder. This is why he so adverse to my favorite book on the disaster and discovery: Pellegrino's flawed but emotionally charged and insightful take. To Biel Pellegrino's sin is he feels the event; Biel goes out of his way to tell us he feel ...more
Jo Butler
Sep 16, 2012 Jo Butler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lest you think, “Just another Titanic retelling,” Down With the Old Canoe is about us. Stephen Biel combs contemporary accounts to show how this “end-of-an-era” disaster has been re-interpreted over the years.

In 1912 Titanic symbolized technological hubris. Anglo-Saxon men were the chivalrous breed: standing aside for their wives and fighting off multi-cultural brutes from steerage who would sink the lifeboats. Suffragettes were warned not to be uppity, because if they were equal to men, they mi
May 06, 2016 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A neat approach to thinking about the sinking of the Titanic. Previously, my entire knowledge of it comes from an uncle who loved talking about it and, of course, the Cameron movie. This cultural history forced me to put the sinking in different contexts. One of the most important takeaways from this was how the sinking was used by so many different people to push differing views of a changing world. For example, some claimed it was the end of the 19th century and the loss of the chivalrous male ...more
This book isn't so much about the Titanic itself, as about the effect the sinking of the ship had on culture after the disaster. It looked at such things as gender, class and race; also, songs and poems written about the Titanic; also, the books, tv, and movies that came about (this was published before James Cameron's movie, however).

I wish I would have noticed the subtitle before requesting it from the library (or even before putting it on my tbr... did I? It was too long ago). It just wasn't
Jan 04, 2012 Jen is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I'm mostly skimming this one, but there are some interesting bits. I liked, for example, the sections referencing concurrent notions of "women and children first" and how that part of the disaster was used to emphasize political ideologies regarding sexual roles and mores. Likewise, the bit regarding Ida and Isador Straus, and how her choice to stay with her husband was used by those looking to bolster the sanctity of marriage. I hardly imagine she had any sort of political agenda when she decid ...more
Dec 11, 2008 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting look at a different angle of the sinking of the Titanic: Culturally, what was the impact of the sinking? Biel examines many aspects of American and European cultures and how the sinking came to mean different things to different classes of people.
Most interesting how so many different groups laid claim to the Titanic sinking. Really enjoyed the " Mission to Destiny" chapter. Wonder what Biel would interpret the Janes Cameron film versions.
Shawn Thrasher
I like stuff about the Titanic, but this was too scholarly for me. I didn't even make it half way through. Not a bad book, just not for me.
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