Best Titanic Books


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Hans J. Wollstein (Hans)

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As a newcomer to TITANIC lore, are there any particular book that I shouldn't miss? I've already read A NIGHT TO... (of course), Colonel Gracie's memoirs, TITANIC: WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST and the senate hearings. I'm not that interested in the general workings of the ship, e.g. books filled with blue-prints and technical details, but in the tragedy itself.
Thank you.
 
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Tracey McIntire

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Hi! Here are some that I would recommend:
The Night Lives On (sequel to A Night to Remember)
Titanic Illustrated History (by Don Lynch with paintings by Ken Marschall)
Titanic at 2AM (by Paul Quinn)
Dusk to Dawn (also by Paul Quinn)
and Lawrence Beesley's account of the sinking
Also, if you are interested in the controversy surrounding Titanic and Californian, definitely read The Ship That Stood Still by Leslie Reade.
 

Mike Herbold

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All of the above, especially the Don Lynch book, plus:
"Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy", John Eaton & Charles Haas;
"Sinking of the Titanic; Eyewitness Accounts", Jay Henry Mowbray;
"Titanic: 31 Norwegian Destinies", Per Kristian Sebak;
"Titanic Voices", Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth, Sheila Jemima (focuses on the perspective from Southampton -- businesses, crew members, death toll)

Then there are some that are biographical in nature:
"Titanic Survivor" about Violet Jessop
"Shadow of the Titanic" about Eva Hart
"Polar -- The Titanic Bear"; this is one of my favorites, even though it's suppossedly a kid's book. Written by first class survivor Daisy Spedden.
 
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Hans J. Wollstein (Hans)

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Thank you for all your suggestions. I guess I have a busy (and expensive!) couple of months of reading ahead of me!
 

Mike Herbold

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Hans:
Don't know where you live, but where I am in Southern California, it seems that Border's Books has a special about once every week or so where they have a Titanic book on the bargain tables for under $5. Keep your eyes open for deals like that.
 

John Lynott

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Hans,

A few further books for your perusal:

The Maiden Voyage by Geoffrey Marcus...still available in paperback. One or two historical inacurracies in light of the discovery of the wreck and like many books puts the appearance of the Rappahannock on the night of the collision and not on April 13, but it is an excellent social documentary. Good hunting!
 
Dec 12, 1999
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I would recommend "The Titanic Conspiracy" by Robin Gardiner. This book has been severely criticized by the members, and even listed under the "Golden Turkey" caption - - but that's precisely why it should be read. It offers a perspective that isn't widely accepted among the regular crowd. Although much is said about Gardiner's suggestion that Olympic and Titanic could have been switched - - the book really doesn't concentrate so much on that. It reviews the Titanic story from the very beginning, i.e., the construction of the "Olympics."

The interesting thing is that Gardiner has a much more skeptical view of the story than you find in other books. Even the story's hero, Captain Rostron, he deems "competent," that's all.

Gardiner also points out in "Conspiracy" the various aspects of IMM's and WSL's cover up and damage control, such as the taking of crewmans' depositions before any of them were allowed to disembark in Southampton.

Unfortunately, most of us were baptized into Titanica by Walter Lord's "A Night To Remember," and we've been culturally socialized over the years with that book. Although he debunked some of this in the later book, "Night Lives On," Lord wasn't very skeptical in ANTR, and pretty much adopted the phony framework of the debate put out by the British Board of Trade, and others. Further, Lord takes his hero worship to the extreme. In "Night Lives On," he devotes a whole chapter to Captain Rostron (doing his captain stuff) as the "electric spark." To Lord, it seems, Rostron was just a step below God.

As such, I think subconsciously, we tend to adopt ANTR's perspective about what is significant about the disaster and what isn't. This, I believe, is at least part of the reason why we focus to such a ridiculous extreme on Stanley Lord - - because he's on the other end of Walter Lord's romanticist spectrum.

But "Titanic Conspiracy" offers a fresh perspective. To Gardiner, Stanley Lord is at worst, a side show. The real players are Captain Smith, and the management of IMM and WSL. I very much agree with that view.

I see "Conspiracy" as in the vangard of books that are coming out that (at least implicitly) discount Walter Lord, ANTR, the 1912 hearings, and a lot of the traditional evidence in favor of much more critical perspectives, and drawing fairer overall conclusions. Today, Titanic book authors are starting to look behind the traditional sources to get at the truth. You can take or leave the talk about switching the ships around. Nonetheless, I highly recommend "The Titanic Conspiracy."
 

Inger Sheil

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Jan, have you read the follow-up book that Gardiner wrote? In it, Lord and the Californian are very much not a 'side show', but rather 'in' on the grand conspiracy :)

Other than the conspiracy theory, there is nothing particularly fresh about this book - the history of WSL mishaps is derived largely from secondary works such as 'Falling Star' by Eaton and Haas, and Wade's work demonstrates a more comprehensive understanding of the political and social context of the disaster. I found Gardiner and van Der Vat's recounting of the disaster quite routine and even pedestrian - the only challenging aspect of this book was the conspiracy theory, and that has been fairly effectively demolished. There was little in the way of new material, simply a rehash of information from the inquiries and already published accounts.

IMHO, this is one work that belongs more properly in the 'worst books' category.

For the 'best books', I agree with John and put 'The Maiden Voyage' among the front rankers. This is a work from an author who thoroughly understood the mercantile marine of the era, and the shipping practices that resulted in the disaster. If you can get your hands on it, Senan Molony's 'The Irish Aboard Titanic' is rich in previously unpublished photographs and accounts.

Regards,

Inger
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Inger,

I haven't read the other book, but it sounds interesting. I've always thought that Stanley Lord did somebody a favor, because despite being fired and severely chastised by the British Board of Trade, he managed to continue in his trade - - even have a stellar career. It's very strange that he could have done that. Normally, such people are black-balled in their respective industries. Today, he would have probably ended up at McDonalds handing out hamburgers. Also, when you read Lord's testimony, it's really obvious he has been heavily coached. Lord doesn't impress me at all as an independent sort of guy who would stand up for something, or to his boss (such a rarity then, and now). So if he was part of some conspiracy, that makes sense from an overall perspective.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback, but I strongly disagree with your assessments about "worst book." Many Titanic publications are sour and mundane. Even worse, they are naive. There fore it was refreshing to read through a more skeptical version of the story, as in "Titanic Conspiracy." I haven't read "Maiden Voyage," or "Irish Aboard The Titanic" yet. I've just started reading "Last Log of the Titanic," which is also quite interesting.

Inger, I encourage you to try to be less judgmental about these publications. I'm not saying that you should apologize. But even if you don't like a particular book, assigning a "turkey" or "worst book" label to it is, in my view, inappropriate.

It was obvious that a lot of care and effort went into Gardiner's book. Further, everything about the Titanic disaster is so subjective. As Oscar Wilde said: "Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that it is new, complex and vital." To me, there's a diversity of opinion about "Titanic Conspiracy." That gives it vitality. But when we start calling something a "turkey" or "worst book," and laugh it off, the debate completely loses its vitality.

We have to realize that it's essential to gain a broad spectrum of views, and not to reject the entirety of something because we don't accept one particular aspect.

The one, unorthodox view expressed in the single, obscure book out there - - may be the truth. For example, Scott Blair and I have been discussing the famous (or infamous) lawyer Clarence Darrow, offline. He read all the standard literature on Darrow, and really liked Darrow. Fortunately, I located a copy of the 1992 publication "The People v. Clarence Darrow" - which describes a real life picture of the man during his 1912 trial. He carried on affairs with women, bribed witnesses, tampered with juries - - you name it (and incidently, he was criminally prosecuted for bribery, and nearly convicted, in Los Angeles).

But if you picked up 99% of the books on Darrow you wouldn't know what a sleaze he actually was (nonetheless, I still respect the guy, and his closing statement in the Leopold-Loeb trial is the best - "So I be written in the Book of Love, I do not care about the Book Above, Erase my name or write as you will, So I be written in the Book of Love").

Unfortunately, "The People" isn't available in Scotland - - so Scott had never even heard of it.

As such, books that don't follow the norm, even those that some may think offer outrageous theories (and I don't think "Titanic Conspiracy" does that), have their place. In the case of Darrow, the one "skeptical" book is the only one that is right about Darrow.

In some, all of us are led or misled in our own peculiar way - -I would suggest that you don't have to agree with Gardiner, but for someone who wants a broad perspective in their reading, "Titanic Conspiracy" is essential.
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo, Jan -

If you read the second book, you'll find substantial 'revisions' on his first (as well as some risable character judgements). Gardiner has re-tooled his theory and now believes that the Californian was one of the ships that was supposed to go to the rescue of the Titanic in her pre-arranged disaster.

I have read very widely and critically, and I stand by my view that Gardiner's theory is - to quote one mariner friend - absolute bilge. There are some books I am extremely critical of - Thresh with his bizarre captioning and confusion of sources (Mrs Ismay surviving the wreck and Hemmings interchanged with Moody spring to mind), 'Total Titanic' for its sheer pilfering and shonky research, and Gardiner for his debunked central premise. You see redeeming features in the book outside this key argument - I don't. As I said, I found the research neither fresh nor original (not even his interpretation of it).

My criticism of Gardiner is not based on the fact that he is critical of the WSL - Wade is far more damaging and convincing on this score. But Wade is both an excellent writer and an original researcher. Unlike Gardiner, he also appreciates that historical events do not happen in a vacuum. Critical of the WSL he might be, but he also understands the historical context of the event rather than simplistically attempting to apportion blame.

If the book's central point were not the 'Switcheroo' theory it would merely be another humdrum title on the sinking. It is this key theory that puts the book right down there with the dregs. Just have a chat to a rivett-counter about how deep the differences between these two ships went - far beyond a difference in the A-deck screens.

So we'll just have to disagree on this one :) Diverse views are important, but simply because a book offers a different perspective doesn't make it a 'valuable' work.

All the best,

Inger
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Well, like you say we'll have to "agree to disagree" on this one. I really don't think that the "switching" theory is Gardiner's central premise - - the notion of a cover up, or conspiracy is. The "switching ships" argument is just one of the aspects of the theory.

With regard to "absolute bilge," the aspects of "Titanic Conspiracy" that are problematic should be, at worst, "gray" areas. I don't think you can totally dismiss them, as "bilge." Further, I like the skeptical perspective offered.

One thing I really disagree with you about is this notion of having to place everything in a historical perspective. I think that comparisons over time may be drawn, and that writers have to draw them in any event. First, even if we tried, we couldn't divorce ourselves from the present in writing about the past. Second, if we divorced ourselves from the present, we would indeed be writing in a vacuum. I don't care how good a historian you are, it's next to impossible to recreate the past without drawing comparisons to the present.

Even worse, the "historical context" argument is often used as a shield. People say, "it was like that back then . . ." but we aren't like that now. But, in fact, many would argue that we are like that, and always will be. For example, this is one of the fundamental premises of St. Augustine's argument in "The City of God." To Augustine, people can only do so much, then they fall from Grace again. To Augustine, World War III, another Titanic disaster, etc., are inevitable. Certainly, I think you would agree that Titanic has contemporary parallels. So, I wouldn't get too fixated on the historical context. In many respects, if you look at the guy next to you, and you're looking at a guy from 1912.

On the matter of Wyn Craig Wade, I have only read his 1970s book on the hearings. Back then I thought it was a great book. Now, however, looking back and having read much of the hearings transcript, I think Wade was really naive. Wade's premise was the Senator Smith did a great job. He really admired William Alden. But I think Smith left a lot of lose ends, didn't follow up, got jerked around, and inadvertently created a weak and inaccurate record that framed the debate. This framework continues to constrict the debate, and our ability to get at the truth.

So, don't take it personally, I respect yours and others views on the ET Board, but I think we have to be careful here. I really wish no one had started the "Golden Turkey" award category. It's too judgmental and unfair. Have a happy holiday.
 

Inger Sheil

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That's cool, Jan - Gardiner set out to court controversy, and he certainly succeeded in that objective :)

You've pegged me wrong, though, on the idea of historical context. I'm not suggesting that we should examine the social/historical milieu of the event in isolation from a wider critical perspective - what I am saying is that an understanding of this is essential to an appreciation of how past events happened and individuals thought and acted. For example, sailing with a coal bunker fire seems much less mysterious and sinister if we know that such fires were not uncommon. To modern eyes, it seems absolutely incomprehensible that a steamship would proceed at speed in spite of wireless warnings that there was ice ahead - if you're aware of maritime practices of the era, however, it becomes part of a pattern of negligence and not an aberration.

I really don't think you can sideline the switcheroo theory, as this is the event that the authors hypothesise is being covered up. Nor do I think there's too much gray area in the feasibility of switching the two ships. As I said, the changes involved far more than the cosmetic differences suggested in this book.

I think you have some valid points on Wade - I doubt there's a book published that I could agree with in every respect (and if there was I'd probably be suspicious of it ;-) ). His greatest weakness is, in my opinion, the one you point out - a near-infatuation with Smith, and a belief that the entire thrust of Smith's questioning was part of a clever grand plan. I suspect that much of the time Smith was simply 'fishing'. Wade also downplayed some aspects that might show his hero in a less than favourable light.

That being said, I still believe the book is far superior to Gardiner and van Der Vat (although this is a bit of an orange/apple comparision). Wade's material is largely original, and he pioneered a serious re-appraisal of the American Inquiry transcripts. I do believe that everyone should read the inquiry transcripts and arrive at their own interpretation of the material (and I'm one of the suckers who spent a fortune on both volumes long before the Inquiry Project went on-line - d'oh!), but Wade provides valuable supplementary information that is not in the text (albeit from a perspective strongly favourable to Smith) that gives superb background to the testimony. The only really groundbreaking aspect of Gardiner's book is his switching theory (which I still think is a load of bilge - either the authors did not understand all the differences between the two ships, or they chose not to include that information in the book). Wade's book is rich in new material. You might not agree with his portrait of Smith, but he does provide supporting material and a very valuable re-appraisal of the inquiries.

I think we should indeed be careful, but I'm afraid that every time I pick up and reread 'The Riddle of the Titanic' my opinion becomes ever more critical - particularly in light of the follow up book. It's not a title I would buy again if my copy happened to fall of the face of the earth, a dubious distinction it shares with quite a few other titles. Or then again, perhaps I'd re-purchase Thresh - the captions and text are problematic, but the picture reproductions are splendid.

All the best

Inger
 
Oct 13, 2000
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Hi Inger,
you wrote: perhaps I'd re-purchase Thresh - the captions and text are problematic, but the picture reproductions are splendid.

if I remember right you have panned this book earlier in another thread, and I remember being surprised by this at that time. I don't remember Thresh's book being that bad. it's main fault to my mind was that it was a very generic retelling of the Titanic story. people who know their Titanic history well certainly didn't find anything new in this book.

but as a book for someone new to the story, I thought it would not be inappropriate.

of course, there is that silly caption about Mrs. Ismay surviving the disaster, but I am not even sure that is the author's fault. creating text for the captions may have been some editor's job long after the manuscript left the author's hands.

so I am just curious, did you find a lot of errors in the text that I missed, or is it that you were just not impressed with the generic nature of the book?

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day there, Michael -

I'll go through a point by point criticism of Thresh when I get home if you like - I'm afraid it's not one of the better titles, as it bollixes up some rather simple facts fairly alarmingly. I do view it with a certain affection, though - I'm very glad Mrs Ismay survived the sinking. Curiously enough, so did Sylvia Lightoller, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, and a young Michael Collins. I'm happy to relate that I, too, survived the sinking :)

In the text we find some very curious errors - one that springs to mind is the conflation of Moody and Hemming. Thresh gives us an exchange between Moody and Lightoller, in which the former heroically jumps out of the lifeboat he has been ordered into in order to attend to the falls. The incident - related in some detail - actually involved Hemming. Sheer sloppiness - there is no reason why this anecdote should be so garbled.

On the plus side, Thresh has reproduced some wonderful photos (many taken, I seem to remember, from Corbis). Just don't trust the captions...(he's another one who goes into some detail identifying the officers of the Olympic as the officers of the Titanic).

All the best,

Ing
 

Mark Baber

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To get back to the original question about good books for a newcomer, I stumbled across something called The Titanic Reader at a Border's sometime this year. The book calls itself, quite accurately, "A grand synthesis of a century's fascination with the Titanic's fate." It is a wonderful collection of excerpts of writing relating directly or indirectly to Titanic---from Beesley, Lightoller, Gracie, Lord, Marcus, Shaw, Conan Doyle, Ballard, Bullock, Astor, Robertson, and on and on. For a newcomer, it's a great way to gain at least some familiarity with almost every subject which brings people to Titanic...technical information, sociological analysis, Californian, salvage, etc. For those of us who are no longer newcomers, it's a good refresher and ready reference for kinds of things we've no doubt read over the years, but can never put our hands on at a moment's notice. In short, this is a terrific book for anyone interested in the subject...so good, in fact, that right before the holidays I wiped out the local Border's supply to give as gifts. The editor is John Wilson Foster; the publisher is Penguin; and the ISBN is 0-14-118483-3.

MAB
 
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Allison Lane

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I agree with Mark--a freshman in my drama class, upon learning of my Titanic fandom, let me borrow a copy of The Titanic Reader. I'd never seen it before and thoroughly enjoyed myself reading it. Didn't it also have an except of something Joseph Conrad wrote in reponse to the sinking? I believe it was a paper he wrote on the subject that I read once and found it highly amusing in the way he wrote it--he was bashing nearly everyone in sight, especially the millionaires. It also had some poems and songs, I think.

Don't know if this has been mentioned, but I also vastly enjoyed Titanic: End of a Dream by Wyn Craig Wade. His account of the American Senate Inquiry was fascinating, in my opinion. I checked it out from the library once and if I can find it at a bookstore I'm going to buy it myself.


-Allison L.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Allison, if the bookstores can't cough it up, you could always try Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble's on-line service. I just ordered Knight's Modern Seamanship from B&N and I expect I'll have it by Wednesday at the latest.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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Allison Lane

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Michael--

I really, really would like to order online, but my mother's never really been keen on sending credit numbers or whatever through a modem, so most of the time I have to make do with the local bookstores. Does the THS sell it? I was skimming over their catalogue again yesterday and gosh, I could burn entirely too much money there if I had it!

-Allison L.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Funny you should ask. I was going through the THS catalogue today and saw the title offered in the book section.

I don't blame your mother for being careful about giving credit card numbers out on line. With the large outfits like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you should be pretty safe as they use some very elaborate security measures. As in 128 bit incryption and secure links. Still, if you're not all that confident, you should still be able to order a copy through a good bookstore.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Mark Baber

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Michael's right. As I said, I bought the copies that I bought---5 in all---at Border's. It's still in print, as far as I know, so any bookstore should be able to order it for you if they don't have in in stock.

MAB
 
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