This review was originally written in 2015
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a big fan of Erik Larson. In the Garden of Beasts kept me up late at night, The Devil in the White City creeped me out, Thunderstruck left me, well, thunderstruck. With great anticipation I opened my e-galley (Thank you Crown!) and settled in. Needless to say, I remain a devoted fan having stayed up late into the night and arisen early the next morning to find out what happened to my favorite passengers and my not so favorite submarine commander. As is his usual habit, Larson tells the story from two viewpoints—in this case the passengers and captain on the Lusitania and the submarine captain of U-20, who sunk the ship. Both sides are compelling and offer the reader an almost omniscient view of what is happening. Larson’s work is copiously researched; he includes quotations from letters, newspapers, official war records and numerous other primary sources, but the story is anything but dry. I came away with a new understanding of just how dangerous crossing the ocean could be; the Lusitania was by no means the only passenger ship to go down. Many succumbed to accident, like the Titanic, but with a frequency I had not previously realized, and there were many sunk by torpedo during WWI. And yet, people still traveled on them and in many cases felt quite comfortable doing so. There was one passenger from the Lusitania, a salesman, who had survived two other ships that went down. Packed with information, but written with a narrative flow that many fiction books could benefit from, Larson’s latest is on the NYT bestseller list and deserves to be so. Most intriguing to me is the possibility of a conspiracy involving Room 40–you will have to read the book to find out what that is, but it will be worth it!. I had heard the occasional theory before, but the evidence as presented definitely seems to tip in favor of conspiracy being a strong likelihood.