Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson

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Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: What became of the people involved in the most famous accident in naval history.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781847377302

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Lesson one in writing non-fiction articles and journalism seems to be to find out what is topical. April 2012 is the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, and there are going to be hoards of people finding it topical to celebrate that. Lesson two seems to be to find your own unique angle on the story. Wilson approaches the Titanic disaster by sinking her at the end of chapter one, for he looks more at the lives of the people on board, and how they took the calamity and dealt with it.

It is, of course, a never-to-be-repeated disaster. The Titanic would never happen these days, for there would be less hubris in making such a ship, and much less belief in this twenty-first century in her being unsinkable, and in giving her a third the amount of lifeboats she needed - and then sending them out at times a third full - there would be inquiries aplenty. Also with the more practical clothes these days the ladies would have been able to jump into the lifeboats much more easily - some struggled to get aboard them in their long, encapsulating skirts.

But jump from ship to boat they did, especially if they were in first class. There was a strong selection of cinema and theatre people on board in the luxury she provided - but there were probably a lot of people relevant to whatever your interest may be in the 1500+ that died. One lady picked out here was on her way to see her film producer lover, and duly starred in a one-reel cinema version of the disaster, produced and screened just four galling weeks after the disaster. She wore the very frock she was rescued in for the movie.

But it's not just the famous, the infamous and the Ismays that are here. Wilson splits his book up - in slightly uneven, patchy ways - into specific biographies, and more general summaries of the people on board. The ten survivors who subsequently killed themselves have their section, for one. It's a method that could work well, but for my mind Wilson floods us with too many names at the beginning, then picks too closely at a few, before opening out again. I don't like to say 'too many names', for of course there were too many killed, and they all deserve their names - one of the more memorable minor details here is that one memorial to the boat has all the dead listed - in their travelling (and therefore social) class order.

So people who know the story will see Ismay, and the Duff Gordons with the unanswerable question of whether or not they paid the crew of their lifeboat to keep them safe and not turn back for survivors. Those knowing fewer of the stories find a woman who went to a fortune-teller, and learnt she would survive a boat wreck and an earthquake, only to die in a car crash. Apart from the last, debatably, it came true.

This is certainly an interesting biography, and Wilson has interviewed the survivors he could, the families of the noteworthy, and found unpublished archives here and there, adding grist to his mill, and more noteworthiness to his new approach. I do think he could at times have given us a different outcome. He rests firmly with the opinion that Ismay sought a life of doom, gloom and self-opprobrium after the boat sank. But he also injects a novel-writer's hyperbole into several of his lives. Everything is emblematic - a car crash shows someone felt this, another went mad via that, and the other was, well, just the other. Someone killing themselves, completely isolated, finds peace and release in death - is he sure?

Those quirks aside, this is a welcome addition to the copious literature about the ship. It shows the humanity in the tale, and reminds us of the survivors who get crossed off the list of the victims. Here are people who definitely were most affected by the crash, and their children and children's children, and all ought to be remembered and thought of, whether in connection to the accident or not.

Lost Voices from the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History by Nick Barratt focuses more on the immediate life and times of the ship, and comes highly recommended.

Buy Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson at

Buy Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson at


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