A.M.'s Reviews > A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
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Apr 03, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012-challenge-list, non-fiction
Read from March 31 to April 02, 2012

April 15, 2012 will be the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic tragedy, and our library book club agreed to this work for April's discussion; otherwise, I would have never read it. It is not an event I wish to remember or relive through books or movies.

That said, for anyone interested in a less melodramatic account than Cameron's infamous movie, A Night to Remember is a compelling read - precisely because its overall tone is so detached and the "victims" themselves seemed so aloof through the entire ordeal - expressing more concern about their outfits and belongings than what was happening around them.

The book launches with a fascinating if not eerie Foreword, where we learn of a struggling author, Morgan Robertson, who in 1898 "concocted a novel about a fabulous Atlantic liner, far larger than any that had ever been built. Robertson loaded his ship with rich and complacent people then wrecked it one cold April night on an iceberg. That somehow showed the futility of everything, and in fact, the book was called Futility when it appeared that year . . . Robertson called his ship the Titan."

Readers need not fear a long, drawn out introduction - Chapter 1 begins with the actual iceberg hit, giving detailed accounts of what the jar felt like to various passengers. It speeds along from there through the Carpathia's rescue effort and concludes with a summary of Facts and the actual Passenger List noting survivors - First & Second Class significantly outweighing Third.

I especially enjoyed Chapter 7, entitled "Your Beautiful Nightdress is Gone," where Lord takes a break from the play-by-play narrative to give a broader perspective on the ship, nautical safety policy at the time (or lack thereof), social and political norms and an insight as to how this event marked a global psychological shift:

"Overriding everything else, the Titanic also marked the end of a general feeling of confidence. Until then, men felt they had found the answer to a steady, organized, civilized life. For 100 years the Western world had been at peace. For 100 years, technology had steadily improved. For 100 years, the benefits of peace and industry seemed to be filtering satisfactorily through society . . . The Titanic woke them up. Never again would they be quite so sure of themselves. In technology, especially, the disaster was a terrible blow. Here was the "unsinkable ship" -- perhaps man's greatest engineering achievement -- going down the first time it sailed. But it went beyond that. If this supreme achievement was so terribly fragile, what about everything else?"

Lord compares the sinking of the Titanic and "the element of fate in it all" - from the ominous novel to unheeded warnings of icebergs to the lack of lifeboats - to a classic Greek tragedy. Perhaps it is not the disaster itself but the lesson we need to remember.






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