• The Titanic: Disaster of the Century

  • By: Wyn Craig Wade
  • Narrated by: Robertson Dean
  • Length: 14 hrs and 12 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (171 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In this centennial edition of the definitive book on the Titanic, new findings and interviews shed light on the world’s most famous marine disaster for its 100th anniversary.

On that fatal night in 1912, the world’s largest moving object disappeared beneath the waters of the North Atlantic in less than three hours. Why was the ship sailing through waters well known to be a "mass of floating ice"? Why were there too few lifeboats? Why were a third of the survivors crew members? Based on the sensational evidence of the U.S. Senate hearings, eyewitness accounts, and the results of the 1985 Woods Hole expedition that photographed the ship, this electrifying account vividly re-creates the vessel’s last desperate hours afloat and fully addresses the questions that have continued to haunt the tragedy of the Titanic.

©2012 Wyn Craig Wade (P)2012 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"A thorough, argumentative work." (John Updike, The New Yorker)

What listeners say about The Titanic: Disaster of the Century

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The disaster and the disaster hearings

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.

24 people found this helpful

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Is there anything new to learn in this story?

I thought that I knew everything there was to know about the Titanic. I was wrong. I also thought that I must have read this book before; as I thought that I must have read all there is to read....wrong again!
This book, told from the point of view of the American Senate hearings, sheds new light on the events, the personalities, and the reactions of all those involved.
The reading is masterful. On many occasions, I would return to re-listen to a extract; not because it was garbled, but because the details were so good; that I needed to re-listen, and re-think my supposed knowledge of a fact. Simply an excellent listen.
I recommend, that if you haven't read anything about the Titanic, (is there anyone left in the world who hasn't?) that Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember" is a good starting point. A background to most of the story will enhance this telling; but then, listen to this, and become further enlightened.
I am putting Robertson Dean on my list of readers to take note of. He did a great job, apart from trying to mimic some speech patterns of Brits, a teeny word or two just marginally wonky in places; but; absolutely forgiven, as those moments only briefly ached the ear of this fussy Brit. But Dean's pacing was superb. His voice good to listen to.

16 people found this helpful

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Very informative book

This book is more than the standard info about the Titanic. It centers on the investigation after the wreck and is very thorough and very interesting. I really enjoyed the listen although it could have been a little shorter without damaging the experience.

5 people found this helpful

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Not What I Expected and A Major Disappointment

I was really looking for something that exclusively covered the Titanic disaster as a moment by moment account, with technical details and some of the ship, line, and industry history to enhance it. Although this is a good book about the hearing it's a disappointment for someone just wanting what I wanted.
Wade spent more time establishing the life story of the main senator (whatever his name was) than on background info on the ship or it's passengers.
Didn't like it. Don't waist your time unless you want to know about the hearing only.

2 people found this helpful

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Unexpectedly fresh and informative - compelling.

What did you love best about The Titanic: Disaster of the Century?

The detail and research of the subject was well assembled and made listenable by the authors. Considering the actual investigation 100+ years ago was all done by hand without technology to record the hearings, this was really great listening.

What other book might you compare The Titanic: Disaster of the Century to and why?

n/a

Have you listened to any of Robertson Dean’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

n/a

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I listened over a period of a week on a recent cruise.

2 people found this helpful

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Titanic

The iceberg that punctured the hull of the Titanic was merely the instrument of her sinking and not the cause; the great ship was struck down by hubris. She was too big, too fast, too grotesquely luxurious to survive. As in all horrific calamities, there was not a single cause, but many, and as fate pushed all the final pieces into place, there could be only one outcome.

Author Wyn Wade pins the perps squarely to the wall, exposing the greed and overarching hubris of all concerned in the design, construction, and operation of the grand ship. As one sage unwisely remarked at the outset of her doomed voyage, "Not even God Himself could sink this ship." Little else need be said.

Robertson Dean's narration is outstanding. His emulation of British accents that seemed to annoy some reviewers is a triviality.

1 person found this helpful

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Everything you did not know about Titanic.

Loved this accounts depth, details, and incredible descriptions of the most famous lost ship ever.

1 person found this helpful

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Incredibly Detailed

Great book for audio listening as it had so much detail it would have easily bored me to read. As such, I was able to listen and Google more info on people or ships simultaneously. I enjoyed it a lot. And it is always a sober reminder of how hubris plays such a huge role.

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Reprint of End of An Era, wish I'd known that

The description of this title mentions that it is a "centennial edition of the definitive book on the Titanic" but doesn't mention that book's original title. Nor does the rest of the description make it clear that this is Wade's End of An Era repackaged. Had I known that, I wouldn't have bought it. I've read the book before and this edition adds nothing noteworthy to it.

As for the book itself, it's not a bad book on the Titanic but not great. Wade's fascination with the Senate hearings is, in my opinion, misplaced. The hearing was useful in that it collected multiple eyewitness accounts in one place but they really didn't accomplish anything of actual value except a lot of publicity for Senator Smith. The disaster by itself was sufficient to change the way shipping lines approached the issue of the Atlantic crossing, the number of lifeboats, and the necessity of having 24-hour wireless. Besides, the United States had already addressed those issues - it was Great Britain that was behind the times.

The narrator does an adequate job but tended to put on a very bad English accent when reading dialog attributed to British passengers or crew, which was distracting.

Again, not a bad book, not a great one. For any student of the Titanic, it's worth a read but for the average person, you're far better off with A Night to Remember.

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Criminally Underrated

This book was my first real foray into the facts of Titanic, and it was a recommendation based on Audible's algorithm. This book single-handedly transformed me from a casual it-hit-an-iceberg-and-it-sank understanding of the most famous shipwreck in history to an eager consumer of even minute details of the ship--from conception to legacy.

After a brief foreword from a wreck diver and an introduction to the centennial edition of the 1979 Titanic: End of a Dream by his wife, the author sets the scene by briefly summarizing technological advances of the 19th century mixed with Victorian style and attitudes of the time, and the rush of immigrants flocking to America seeking a better life.

The book centers around the American inquiry conducted by the Senate, with first-hand testimony, survivor accounts and autobiographies of involved persons providing the bulk of the source material. While there are some now-debunked inaccuracies contained in this book, these are understandable given the time period it was researched and written (before the wreck was located) and at least one of these inaccuracies regarding John Jacob Astor can be attributed not to the author but an account of a survivor who was mistaken. Overall, most of what is presented as fact in this book continues to be agreed upon by even today's Titanic historians.

Wade presents facts in a narrative that I rarely find in most historical/non-fiction works. It's obvious from this book how he feels about often misunderstood or misrepresented evidence and people, like the self-made William Alden Smith whose determination to solve the riddle of this tragedy was unperturbed by lack of nautical expertise, or the oft-maligned J. Bruce Ismay who was unjustly vilified and all but blamed for causing the accident. Interspersed throughout the inquiry are reactions by the public, the political climate of the time, news media representation, the cultural, social and economic impact, and a word of caution to readers about our hubris.

In summary, the author does justice to the disaster of the Titanic by mixing documented facts and a talent for narration to take the listener back to 1912 to experience the disaster through the eyes of the survivor and observer alike, and truly helps us appreciate how this voyage shaped an entire generation. I've never deleted the book from my device because it is worthy of more than one listen.