Unsinkable The Full Story

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Michael E.

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Hi everyone.
I just wanted to know if any of you have read the book "Unsinkable, The Full Story" by Daniel Allen Butler. If you have, what are your thoughts on the book. I found it very informational and well researched. Walter Lord even had praise for it. I'm just curious of what everyone else thought of it.
Thanks
 
O

Oracle

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I don't think much of the book or its author. Get A Night to Remember and you'll basicly have Unsinkable (entendez-vous?)
 

Dave Gittins

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A good part of "Unsinkable" is Butler's comments on the sense of duty which is so important to understanding the behaviour of the crew and many of the male passengers. Butler is a military man and was brought up on a code of honour not unlike that of 1912.

Another useful part is the contribution from a psychologist who discusses Captain Smith's likely mental state after the collision.

Much of the rest is far less satisfactory. He makes numerous nautical errors, including the silly nonsense about the reverse action steering wheel, which derives ultimately from Lord.

There are other petty careless errors, not relevant to the main tale. He's even invented a composer called Fritz Lehar.

It's hard to recommend the book as a general reference.
 
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Daniel Rosenshine

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Actually I didn'tlike the book too much either. Surely he must be credited for his research, but some of it is just a collection from various books but told as his own interpretation -- frequently incorrectly. He puts a passenger, I believe it was Mrs Potter in C51. I think if there is any cabin number that enthusiast know, it's C51 belonging to Col. Gracie.

The above was merely an example, nothing in particular, but something that glowed brightly as being incorrect, amongst some other things.

I didn't have any lasting impressions of the book, only just to contact the author and to correct the obvious mistakes.

If one wants to read that book, then it's ok, but certainly I would not run around recomending it. "Titanic: an ilustrated history" stands out as one of my most favourite.

Daniel.
 

Logan Geen

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This is a very interesting book. Yes,a lot of it does seem to be A Night to Remember rewritten. The Californian and Captain Smith comments on the end are very interesting. I do recommend this. Many of you are right, there are some errors and it is not my # 1 choice.
 
Nov 12, 2000
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I'll be bucking the trend of this thread, but I rather like Butler's book. sure, it had its share of mistakes, but I know of almost no book on the subject where errors didn't creep into the text. that's what they made 2nd editions for! :).

Butler's strength is that he shoots straight from the hip. his text is solid and his attempt at opposing revisionist historical writing is commendable. I thought it was well done. a perfect Titanic work? no, but well worth reading.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 

Tracy Smith

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Well, you know that I would take a dim view of Butler's book because of his near character assassination of Captain Lord, which at times reeks of emotional righteous indignation.
 

Logan Geen

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Tracy because of your views on the Californian issue I understand where you're coming from, but I personally feel that Butler didn't attack Lord anymore than Walter Lord did, and to me he wasn't really too harsh. I personally believe that Butler made several good points about the Californian. Near character assassination? If you choose to see it that way.
 

Tracy Smith

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"When the true picture emerged, it became clear that Lord was a latter-day Captain Bligh, an inflexible tyrant..." p.244

Hmm, seems pretty harsh to me. And this is Butler's unverifiable opinion presented rather emotionally as documented fact.

"Stanley Lord was clearly unwilling to go to anyone's aid." p.244

Clear to whom? Was Butler able to read Lord's mind nearly 90 years after the fact? This is opinion, once again, being presented as fact.

"Though he would find subsequent employment as a master in years to come, his career had effectively ended, as his commands became progressively smaller and slower." p. 234

This one is pure untruth. If you'll turn to the Encyclopedia Titanica Research Articles, in the article I coauthored with Mike Standart, and Captain Erik Wood, and read the section about Captain Lord's career, you'll find Butler's statement to be patently false. One highlight from that article was that his next employer, Lawther/Latta had so much confidence in him and his abilities that their newest ship was reserved solely for his command when it was completed in 1917, even though Lord was the line's youngest captain with the least seniority with the line.

It is quite obvious that Butler did not do any but the most superficial research into Stanley Lord and his career.
 

Logan Geen

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Good points Tracy, they most likely are Butlers own opinions. People are allowed to state them (of course they should label as opinions not facts). About Lord's career ending many people have made that mistake, even Ed Kamuda of the THS once stated "Lord's life was ruined by this basically". Butler is not the only one who has these opinions. I don't intend to get into a big argument over this, but I do feel that there may be some truth in Butler's statements. About being "unwilling to go to anyone's aid" many people agree with that althought Lord said he would have tried had he known. I highly doubt any captain would turn away from a ship in distress. That is a rather unfair opinion. Butler also mentioned some things I have heard no where else, such as Fleet and Lee informing the bridge of seeing the light and that some Lordites claimed that the Samson fired off flares that were seen from the Californian. By the way, it's not really fair to dismiss a Titanic book just because you don't like it's explanation of the Californian incident. An anti-Lordite shouldn't hate Titanic Triumph and Tragedy or Titanic: An Illustrated History just because it's pro-Lordite. Neither should a pro-Lordite toss out The Night Lives On or Unsinkable just because the book is anti-Lordite. Anyway, I hope we haven't gotten off on the wrong foot Tracy-it's a pleasure to "meet" you!
 

John M. Feeney

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Tracy:

If you're going to condemn the man for what you consider "unverifiable opinion presented rather emotionally as documented fact" (based, of course, on your own unverifiable opinion ...), you should at least do him the courtesy of correctly quoting him, and within the context.

"When the true picture emerged, it became clear that Lord was a latter-day Captain Bligh, an inflexible tyrant..." p.244

"When the true picture finally emerged, it became clear that Lord was a latter-day Captain Bligh, an inflexible tyrant with a powerful temper, given to sarcasm and derisive comments that embarrassed and humiliated his officers, who in turn would go to any length to avoid conflict with their captain." (Butler, "Unsinkable", p. 244)

"Stanley Lord was clearly unwilling to go to anyone's aid." p.244

"What is unforgiveable is that, even if it was not the Titanic seen from the Californian's bridge that night, someone was in trouble, and Stanley Lord was clearly unwilling to go to anyone's aid." (Butler, "Unsinkable", p. 244)

Moreover, those two particular quotes are excerpted from an Appendix of the book which deals primarily with the subsequent efforts of Lord's supporters. If you look instead to the *body* of the text, e.g., Chapter 12, (see Index: "Lord ..., character of") you'll find corresponding statements *with* footnotes identifying the basis for those remarks.

Incidentally, Dan Butler is a regular contributor to the newsgroup "alt.history.ocean-liners.titanic", and would probably be delighted to address any concerns you might have about the validity of his various conclusions. :^)

Regards,
John Feeney
 

Inger Sheil

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Poor Bligh! His very name is now shorthand for a tyranical master. Not quite fair, as the trend of historical analysis now tends towards the idea that he was one of the more misunderstood figures in nautical history. Since the mutiny on the Bounty, supporters of both Bligh and Christian have been duking it out. In the 20th Century Hollywood pretty much declared Christian the winner, and Charles Laughton's Bligh has carved himself quite the niche in popular culture.

While recent historical appraisals have been much kinder to Bligh, I believe that one of the best books on the subject is Richard Hough's work, Captain Bligh and Mr Christian (London, Hutchinson, 1972). It has generated its fair share of controversy since first published, but the author has a talent for seeing the men involved as fully fleshed human beings rather than stereotypes. He constructs a very plausible scenario explaining why Bligh, such a brilliant Captain under adverse conditions (as when rounding the Cape during foul weather and in his extraordinarily feat of navigating a ship's boat to safe harbour after the muntiny) could be such a nightmare under fair conditions.

Bit of a tangent, but some of us are partial to RN history. I must admit to being a bit partial to Fletcher Christian, though!

~ Inger
 
Nov 12, 2000
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wasn't there a Bounty movie a few decades ago that was very sympathetic towards Bligh? I'm thinking it was in the 1970s, with Mel Gibson (of all people) as Christian, and, I think, Anthony Hopkins as Bligh? the movie may even have been based on Hough's book.

I'm working on memory here, which is always a dangerous thing!
Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 

Kyrila Scully

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You're absolutely right, Michael. Mel Gibson's Fletcher Christian was portrayed as a love-sick sailor who refused to leave his Tahitian lover, and encouraged other sailors who had taken island girls as lovers to join him in mutiny. Of course, Anthony Hopkins' Captain Bligh was a harsh and exacting disciplinarian, but no reason for mutiny. The real end of the story is that all the mutineers and some of their lovers and in-laws perished either from infighting or disease, save for one lone surviving sailor who found a Bible and used it to form an island government. Eventually, Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries discovered the island and all the inhabitants were absorbed into that church until travel became more readily available and the descendants went out on their own to discover the outside world and a few left their religious and historical heritage behind.

All the best,
Kyrila
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day Mike -

Your memory is in very good working order ;-) The movie you're referring to with Mel and Anthony Hopkins was based on Hough's book. It dealt rather indirectly with some of the more controversial theories Hough proposed, but was far more sympathetic to Bligh than his previous silver screen incarnations.

~ Inger
 

Tracy Smith

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Logan Geen said:

By the way, it's not really fair to dismiss a Titanic book just because you don't like it's explanation of the Californian incident

Fair enough, Logan. But I will point out that I think that Leslie Reade's book is an important one, even though I don't agree with most of Reade's conclusions. This book has been quite useful to me, especially Reade's insights into Stone's family upbringing and probable psychological problems having a possible bearing on what happened that night. I don't think that there is another book that addresses this aspect like Reade does.

Reade, while not in Captain Lord's favor, manages to avoid the shrill tone I objected to in Butler's and Pellegrino's books. Reade gives Captain Lord credit where he felt it was due, and readily admits that Lord was a highly competent mariner, even stating that if Lord had gone to White Star Line when they offered him a job, that he would have most likely been considered as one of their best officers. I consider Reade to have been a worthy, honorable opponent.

John, I don't suppose that you and I are ever going to see eye to eye about the Californian incident. But as I stated to Logan above, I don't object to Mr Butler expressing his opinions and interpretations, but it's his tone that I don't like. Unlike Reade, I find it to be inflammatory, in my considered opinion.

And I don't think it improper that I did not quote the entire sentence of two of the examples I gave; I quoted what I found to be the main point of the passage and I provided page numbers for interested people to read further.
 

John M. Feeney

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Hi, Tracy:

In fairness to you, I should concede that your third contention, regarding Butler's erroneous dismissal of Lord's subsequent career, seems quite on the money. Though I couldn't locate the full substance of the argument within the ET research article, I was able to backtrack and confirm it in what appears to be its source (Reade). And since Dan Butler did have access to Reade and in fact cited him in other instances, it seems fairly obvious he missed the boat on that one. (Pun intended.)

Unless I'm mistaken, the Anglo-Chilean (at 9000+ register tons) was about 1-1/2 times the displacement of Californian. So obviously Butler's "ever smaller" is indeed incorrect. (Its speed I don't know, versus Californian's 13 knots, but your point is already validated.)

Of course, the bizarre paradox raised by Captain Lord's subsequent *success* -- and certainly it was such, as far as I can see -- is that it leaves those who would defend Lord without the sympathetic underpinning that "his career was unjustly ruined", while stripping those who regard Lord as a villain of the implied satisfaction of believing that he "got what he deserved." Curious, eh?

I agree that we will probably never agree on "Lord of the Californian". Though he may indeed have been an excellent seaman *technically*, and highly praised by his superiors, his conduct in 1912 -- during and *after* the 15th of April -- leaves little doubt that he was not then an exemplary human being and was not beloved by his subordinates.

I hope, for his own sake, that the mistakes he made in 1912 brought some well-needed changes to Lord's perception of the world, especially people. Based on the anecdote you published about Lord's personally rescuing the man trapped in the hold, it appears that perhaps that crisis did alter him somewhat for the better. (If so, more power to him!)

But only the past is prologue, not the future.

Regards,
John
 
Nov 12, 2000
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my interpretation of what Butler was trying to say was that Lord's passenger liner career was ruined. by refering to smaller, slower vessels he was comparing the cargo ships Lord later captained to the ocean liners, which would have been larger, faster vessels had he continued his advancement in that arena.

if that is indeed what Butler meant to say, it was very poorly worded. without more background in the subject the casual reader would definitely come away with the understanding that Lord was washed up in the shipping business, which, as Tracy pointed out, is completely untrue.

best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 
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History has more than a few examples of otherwise aggressive and capable leaders exhibiting a curious inaction at a critical juncture. Whenever I think of Captain Lord, I can't help but compare his inaction to that of Stonewall Jackson during the Peninsula campaign. Maybe it's God's way of reminding us that we're human, not machines.

Just a random thought that doesn't advance the thread one iota.

Parks
 

Tracy Smith

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John,
With all due respect, I don't think it is fair to conclude that Captain Lord was not an "exemplary human being", based on crew accounts from the time immediately after the Titanic disaster. Whether or not he was "beloved" by his subordinates cannot be ascertained with any level of accuracy. And I would not think that Lord or many captains believe that their job is to be "beloved".

The comments made by a handful of crewmembers, either in newspapers or in the hearings cannot be said to reflect the opinion of each and every crewman. The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that the comments made reflected what that particular person felt and believed at that particular moment. I imagine that emotions were running high right after the Titanic incident, most likely affecting what was said. We cannot know that even these crewmen would have said the same thing much later after the furor had died down and they'd had a chance to think about it in more depth.

So far as what Lord himself said to the newspapers, we cannot know if he was quoted with complete accuracy. Newspapers covering the Titanic disaster were not known for completely accurate reporting....I'm sure you'll remember the Rigel the dog story, the story of Bride decking the Black stoker who tried to steal Phillips' lifebelt, and so on. It is quite possible the newspapers "jazzed up" Lord's comments in order to sell more newspapers. As Mike Standart said on another thread, if they were called on it, they could always print a retraction buried on page 8.

I agree that there is much information that seemingly points to his guilt, but there is also much information pointing in the other direction as well. But based on his entire life and career, I've chosen to give him the benefit of the doubt. The idea that he didn't come to the Titanic's rescue becuase he couldn't be bothered to get out bed just doesn't make sense when you look at the rest of his career, both before and after. He'd worked very hard to achieve command at the early age of 28, and to think he'd throw it all away like this just doesn't wash. There are missing pieces to this puzzle and I hope to find them one day.

I find it significant and indicative of Lord's basic character that he had nothing but commendations before and after the Titanic disaster. No one in his professional life who knew him well believed that he was guilty of what he was charged with.

Captain J. MacNab, a member of the Executive Council of the MMSA, put his own reputation on the line when he wrote a letter to the Liverpool Post on August 2nd in defense of Captain Lord.

Similarly, Frank Strachan, the American agent for the Leyland Line, stuck his neck out when he helped him get hired by Lawther,Latta, vouching absolutely for Captain Lord's character. Strachan stuck by Captain Lord for the long haul, arranging for a sympathetic article in a Savannah, Georgia newspaper in 1914. At that time, Strachan made the comment to Lord that, "They wanted a bloody goat, Lord, and they got you!"

A person knows who his real friends are when the chips are down, and a man without good character simply does not gain the type of friends Captain Lord had in Captain MacNab and Frank Strachan, among others.

Mike,
Butler said that Lord's commands got <FONT COLOR="ff0000">progressively smaller and slower, indicating to me that each command was progressively smaller and slower than the Californian, not that he'd ruined his chances at a passenger liner command. Considering that none of the surviving officers of the Titanic ever achieved commands at all, Lord came out better all around.