This is a horrifying and depressing story, but an important one. Richard Evans is a careful historian, not given to hyperbole and dramatic flourishes, and Sean Pratt matches his tone with a comfortable pace and even tone. Yet in its methodical way, the book lays out a gripping tale.
One point Evans makes is that the Nazis did NOT come to power democratically; they never won more than about 38% of the popular vote. Their victory was a result of PR, brutal street violence, and "backstairs intrigue," with their participation in the electoral process mostly for show. Once in, they proceeded to infiltrate and dominate every aspect of German society, down to the smallest blue-collar singing club in the smallest rural village. Everything was made to point in the same direction in a massive program of "coordination."
One of the most depressing aspects of this whole dismal saga, to me, is the way the Nazis were able to take over German culture, science, and higher education. Jewish musicians were fired; "non-Aryan" physicists and biologists were forced out of the universities and out of the country, to the great impoverishment of German science; philosophy was dominated by Martin Heidegger, who fully embraced the Nazi program. Gung-ho college students tore through bookshops and libraries, seizing "anti-German" material and throwing it onto a bonfire.
The book stops in the spring of 1933, just after the Nazi revolution and before the brown shirts were decimated in the "Night of the Long Knives." The second volume in the trilogy, "The Third Reich in Power," is available on Audible with the same narrator. (I'm going to wait a few weeks before I tackle that one: I need some time to recover from the first volume.)
"Voyagers of the Titanic," as its title implies, focuses on the people rather than the technical aspects of the wreck. Davenport-Hines organizes the stories into groups: among them the shipbuilders, the ship's officers, and the first, second, and third class passengers. I was particularly pleased to see so much attention being given to second class, which was given short shrift in the movie "Titanic" and in many other accounts of the disaster.
Up to the point where the iceberg strikes, each chapter is filled with interlocking mini-biographies of the people involved. The narrative is organized loosely in a kind of "six degrees of separation" style: branching out through the passenger list and giving a vivid sense not only of the people but of the world they inhabited.
The author reaps the benefits of this careful preparation in his narration of the disaster itself. These are not random people who show up on the boat deck: they're people we've met, spent some time with, come to have some opinions about. Davenport-Hines recounts the story of the wreck, the lifeboats, the rescue, the dissemination of the news: it's all familiar ground to Titanic buffs, but given here with superlative organization and a host of fresh details.
Anyone who's read more than one book about the Titanic knows how vastly different perceptions can be. Davenport-Hines takes a dim view of Senator William Smith's US Senate inquiry into the disaster, accusing Smith of "grating stupidity" and the hearings as "raucous scapegoating." Smith, of course, was virtually the hero of Wyn Craig Wade's book, "The Titanic: Disaster of the Century."
I don't think I would recommend this to someone as the first book to read on the subject - that would still have to be Walter Lord's classic - but it's a compelling listen, a very thorough account of the subject, and it should definitely be the second or third book on your Titanic list.
Wyn Craig Wade's "Titanic" is my third favorite account of the tragedy (the other two were written by Walter Lord). He describes the US Senate hearings into the disaster, held within days of the event, and combines that with powerful flashbacks of the sinking itself. For example, when he recounts the testimony of Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, who was actively involved in filling the lifeboats, Wade interweaves a number of anecdotes about the lifeboats, some of them episodes that Lowe himself could not have seen but which help to fill out the story and increase the sense of impending doom.
The chairman of the Senate hearings, William Alden Smith, has come in for considerable ridicule over the years for his sometimes repetitive and often obtuse questions. Wade draws a very different picture. Smith's admittedly idiosyncratic way of questioning witnesses was actually a well-honed skill, one that elicited a great deal of information that might have otherwise been missed. (Some of it was also the result of lousy acoustics and background noise, which forced Smith to ask the same question more than once.) Smith almost single-handedly wrote the committee's report and introduced it to the Senate with a masterful speech that very effectively summed up what was then known about the sinking.
Because of Smith's efforts, many details of the story that would otherwise have been lost became a matter of public record; and the legislation that followed went a long way toward improving the chances of future travelers to survive a similar disaster. It was Smith who zeroed in on the lack of adequate lifeboats, the perfunctory and inadequate lifeboat drills, the terrible risks Captain Smith was taking by sailing at top speed in waters that were known to be dangerous (and with no additional lookouts); Smith who brought out the facts about steerage passengers' ignorance of their real danger until it was too late, about the "laissez faire" attitude taken toward their ability to reach the boat deck, about the huge discrepancy in survival rates between the classes. It was Smith who exploded the myth of the "stiff upper lip" on the part of the cultured English gentlemen: true enough early in the night of the sinking before it was clear to everyone that the ship really was going down; after that it was every man for himself, regardless of class. (In other words, James Cameron's depiction of people's behavior during the sinking is much more accurate than that of either the 1953 film or the 1958 film version of Lord's book.)
The book was originally published about 25 years ago and has since been reissued with a new foreword and a new afterword, which are included in this audiobook.
Robertson Dean gives a wonderful reading of this deeply moving book. There's one exception to this, something I found distracting at times: Dean has a very deep, very North American voice, and his attempts at a variety of British accents are hit and miss. The accents themselves would be all over the map in the best of hands: testimony was taken from people of all social classes, and Dean tries to reflect that in his reading, but the results are only occasionally convincing. Even so, as I said, this remains one of my favorite books on the subject, and it's a great and brooding listen.
there are many non-fiction books on Americans experience during WWII but none have affected me as much as The Girls of Atomic City. The author, Denise Kiernan, managed to take the readers though the exciting story of the highly classified race for the A-bomb while intertwining the lives of the women and men who worked at Oak Ridge. These men and women sacrificed much to help the war effort and im glad Kiernan has preserved their accounts for us to read.
This story stirred two conflicting emotions in me the reader. First, pride in what others before us have done and humility in the sacrifice they made in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Parents, add this book to your teenagers' reading list to supplement their American history studies.
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