'Titanic Tragedy': what went down with the ship
John Maxtone-Graham's "Titanic Tragedy" revisits the famous sinking of the RMS Titanic and manages to tell a fresh, fascinating story.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner'
by John Maxtone-Graham
W.W. Norton, 235 pp., $24.95
Another book on the RMS Titanic? One would imagine that everything that could be said, shown, studied and written had been done. But April 15, 2012, marks the centennial of the great sinking of the ship that couldn't be sunk, and we will be deluged by the anniversary, from a ship sailing to the exact point the Titanic went down to a rerelease of James Cameron's epic film — this time in 3D.
Few centennial tributes, however, will carry the deep passion and knowledge of John Maxtone-Graham's "Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner." He is the author of more than 20 books on maritime history and a renowned lecturer on ocean liners.
After a lifetime of writing about the great event, he is "less concerned with clearing up loose ends than creating what might be described as historical steppingstones, documenting events and episodes leading up to and emanating from the disaster."
Not being an expert, or even knowledgeable beyond the basics of the Titanic, I cannot say what exactly is new about the book. What the author does so well is cover every aspect of the ship and its history, from the development of Morse code and Marconi's wireless technology to the pernicious and long-lasting effects of class differences.
For example, aboard the Carpathia, the ship that plucked the survivors out of the water, first-class passengers had to be crammed into rooms because they wouldn't sleep in third-class cabins. This kind of disparity persisted in death, when many monuments to the dead didn't include crew members, such as stokers and busboys.
Maxtone-Graham paints a full and fascinating portrait, providing a wonderful introduction to the people, places, issues and technology of the great ship and its tragic collision with an iceberg.
He does at times bog down in the details, but otherwise his prose is conversational, yet erudite. Yes, it is another book on the Titanic, but one well-worth reading.