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

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  550 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
Award-winning historian Frances Wilson delivers a gripping new account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, looking at the collision and its aftermath through the prism of the demolished life and lost honor of the ship’s owner, J. Bruce Ismay. In a unique work of history evocative of Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Lord Jim, Wilson raises provocative moral questions about cowa ...more
Hardcover, 329 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Harper (first published August 1st 2011)
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Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
J. Bruce Ismay was the managing director and chairman of the White Star Line, the company that built the Titanic. Ismay was on board and had seen a warning about ice sent from the Baltic, but went to bed after dinner apparently unconcerned. When the collision occurred at 11:40pm Ismay awoke and went to the bridge. One of a handful of people on board who realised the ship would sink he failed to warn his secretary, valet, dining companion or others of the danger. However, he did help load the lif ...more
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, titanic
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
Jan 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Rhiannon Ryder
Aug 05, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Oct 09, 2011 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
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
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it

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
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Sarah Beth
Oct 28, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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
Chris Taylor
Apr 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 15, 2011 rated it liked it
This isn’t so much a biography as a book-length op-ed piece about the most reviled Titanic survivor. Author Frances Wilson editorializes with abandon, sometimes ascribing collective motives for whole groups of people. She also fixates with panache on nationalistically driven hearings that took place in the United States and Great Britain. It is often fascinating discourse. Still, it’s important to recognize that the top priority is not academic, rigorously objective biography. Chapter after chap ...more

This was thoroughly researched and comprehensive view of the Titanic, but at times I found myself skimming parts of this book, which I rarely do. It was interesting to hear the varying accounts of the different passengers: no two stories were the same. The author for some reason decided to view the Titanic "through the prism of Joseph Conrad's novel 'Lord Jim'.". I have not read that book, and didn't want to view anything through any particular prism. This was just okay for me.
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
I understood / appreciated the parallels the author was trying to draw to Lord Jim & Conrad, but the enormous biography of Conrad & the 'Lord Jim for Dummies' got to be too much. Interesting points but at times she seemed confused about how she was portraying Ismay.
May 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
This reads like a poorly thought-out research paper. There are some interesting moments, but you have to slog through musings about Conrad's works and long excerpts from transcripts of court proceedings to get to them. At the end I felt confused. Was there ever a conclusion as to what the true version of events on the Titanic was? Was Ismay guilty? Those are the questions I assumed the book would answer, and I'm not sure it did.
Maura Heaphy
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
A disappointing account of an interesting subject. For anyone who will read anything Titanic-related, there might be enough here to keep you happy (perhaps, periodically throwing the book across the room in disgust. There are some pretty blatant factual errors, some claims that don’t make sense, as well as some astonishingly poor writing and proofreading.)

If you are a Titanic-obsessive (like me), you will know that J. Bruce Ismay was the President of the White Star Line, the company that owned T
Very interesting, but could have been much shorter.

Half of this book is about Joesph Conrad (whose Heart of Darkness I DNF'd because it made no sense and had too many racial slurs), so I didn't particularly like that essentially half the book was about this guy and his writings.
Oct 25, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jan 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Chad Bullard
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: firstreads, history, hns
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
Stuart Hill
This was an interesting and original attempt to tell the story of the Titanic through the perspective of the life of J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line and survivor of the disaster. From the substantial footnotes and bibliography it is clear that the book was thoroughly researched. However, the resultant book was only a partial success.

Within the first couple of pages factual errors were cropping up. The text claims that on colliding with the iceberg a 300 foot gash was torn in
Nov 09, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jennifer Rayment
Oct 11, 2011 rated it liked it
The Good Stuff

* Extremely thorough and well researched
* Interesting background information on other members of the crew of the Titanic
* Fascinating to read about all of the different accounts from the survivors of the disaster - even people on the same boat have completely stories on the events of that night
* The comparison to Conrad's Lord Jim really does make it a compelling read at times
* The background info on Ismay's childhood give you insight into the man himself and you can understan
GoodReads first-reads giveaway winner! Received my copy 11/4, which was just 10 days after I was notified I was a winner.

This is a difficult review to undertake, and I will probably write just a short one now, coming back to it when I have some space from the reading. I found the book interesting, a wealth of facts and bits and pieces about the sinking, individuals onboard, and Ismay's personal history. However, it was very choppy and jumpy, no linear narration, which made it difficult to read
Oct 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: titanic
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
Todd Stockslager
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: A heart that would not go on
On the 100th anniversary of the Titanic (the ship's name a shorthand for both the event and its importance) is a poignant story that unlike so many about the ship is fresh and powerful in its impact. Wilson's biography of J. Bruce Ismay, the managing director and chairman of the White Star Line, is powerful in its simple presentation of the events and evidence that shattered Ismay's life that April night and left him alive for the rest of his 25 years.

Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-other, vine
What would you do if you had the chance to leave the Titanic in a lifeboat as it was sinking? What if you were its owner? And what if you knew you might face severe questions and even ridicule because of your choice? Frances Wilson examines the unhappy decision of J. Bruce Ismay, President of the White Star Line, who took the opportunity to jump when it was presented to him.

While it's cleverly titled, it's neither a survival book nor a full account of the Titanic. It's partly a history of the s
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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 include Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers and The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life, which won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. She reviews widely in the British press and is ...more
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