William McMaster Murdoch A Career at Sea


Nov 22, 2000
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Just to let you know that the above book, by Susanne Stormer is now published. I do have some advance copies but as it's a fairly heavy volume, postage to the USA might be prohibitive. It is an incredibly well researched topic with a couple of new twists that might just set the reader thinking!

Geoff
 
Nov 12, 2000
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Geoff, thanks for the update. those of us on this side of the pond who preordered copies are eagerly awaiting their arrival!

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Great news Mike. If you could drop me a line when you get your shipment, I'd like to order a copy.
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Kimberly Nona

Guest
Does anyone know if this book has another name?
I did a search on the net and a web site said it was called "Good-bye, Good Luck: The Biography of William McMaster Murdoch" by Susanne Stormer

I tried searching for books stores on the net, but no luck
 
Nov 12, 2000
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Kimberly,
Störmer did two biographies of Murdoch, which is what is causing you the confusion.

the first book was in 1995 and was called Goodbye, Good Luck: The Biography of William McMaster Murdoch.

her second book is the one that was just published last month and it is called William McMaster Murdoch, A Career at Sea.

you won't find either of these books on any of the usual new book sites. Susanne's first book was limited to 500 copies. it is out of print and hard as nails to find.

her new book is, so far, only available directly from the author herself. it is a little difficult to order from her as she lives in Germany and the banks there do not deal well with an International Money Order. if you live in England/Europe things are not too bad. but if you live here in the States, it is more complicated.

all the details are covered on her website:

http://www.william-mcmaster-murdoch.org/

I am working on getting some copies shipped here to the U.S. to make them for sale on this side of the Atlantic. it is going slower than I like though (with all the holidays on top of an already hectec schedule), so it may be a month or two yet before I have the books. I will post a notice on ET when I get them however.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 
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Melissa E. Kalson

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Hi Michael.. I saw on your site that you are out of stock of this particular book. Will you be getting any more in any time soon? I would love to have a copy. Sincerely, Melissa K.
 
Nov 12, 2000
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Hi Melissa,
I have a payment on the way to Germany for another batch of copies. I hope to have them within a few weeks. my apologies to those on this thread who asked me to post a notice when I got my initial shipment in. I completely forgot to post the notice! I will absolutely, positively, fer sure post a note when this next shipment arrives. these will all be signed 1st edition copies, just like the others.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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Just got mine yesterday, Michael. Interesting read.

Pat W.
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

Guest
All right. I'm going to stick my neck out. Dare the flames of Smithfield, what the hey...

William McMaster Murdoch, a Career at Sea is a tremendously impressive piece of research, and is valuable for its factual information about Will Murdoch's career. Ms.Stoermer records most of his ships and voyages-- I noticed one rather conspicuous absence-- but the majority are certainly there. She lists the men he sailed with. For that, I applaud her. Good job, and well done. However, I have the most serious reservations about the rest.

It would appear that Murdoch was the only man on the Titanic who saw his duty and did it. E.J.Smith was incompetent, Lightoller was irresponsible, Harold Lowe could curse and little else... and so on down the line of deck officers. The crew and officers were divided as to "families"-- those who had served together on the Adriatic not quite meshing with those from the Oceanic. (Professional mariners, comments please-- does it really work like that?)

Now I must say here that Murdoch is a difficult subject to capture personally-- I've heard that most of his correspondence has been either destroyed or lost. However, that is no excuse for passing a great deal of speculation as fact-- which is what happens here--and the speculative portrait is one of a humorless prig of a man.

The book is worth the price of purchase for the crew lists alone, but approach with caution otherwise.

Pat W.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Hallo Pat!

I can see where you’re coming from, and by and large completely agree with you. I also understand your reservations in criticising the work of one of the Titanic community’s most respected researchers (and respected for good reasons). I’ve made Susanne aware of my own quibbles with her work, and we have discussed them more or less amicably (although without resolution).

Firstly I have to second your remarks about the phenomenal effort that Susanne has put into researching this work. I’m in a better position than many to appreciate the sheer amount of effort, ingenuity and expense that goes into compiling material on a comparatively obscure historical figure, and the difficulties in assembling a fair idea of their life and career when, unfortunately, so little direct personal material remains extant. Take, for example, the crew agreements / official logs, which she has drawn on extensively. There is no single archive holding or even a consistent dispersal of these items, and finding where in the world (because they aren’t even in the one country) they are can be a right cow of a job. Having had to do it myself with some of the Titanic’s other officers, I admire how many of these Susanne was able to track down.

I also admire her efforts to put William Murdoch within he context of his era, and her use of contemporary material to try and explore what life would have been like for him both in sail and steam. While there is unfortunately little in the way of direct source material for what William Murdoch specifically experienced, she had done a good job in compiling a sense of what he would have had in common with others in his profession going to sea.

That being said, I must admit to feeling rather disappointed in her treatment of Murdoch’s colleagues on the Titanic. I came away with the distinct impression that she was hypercritical of these men while at the same time seeking to present Murdoch in the best possible light. It reminded me of Joseph in Wuthering Heights — but where Bronte’s fictional character ‘ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours’, Susanne has mined sources, including the inquiry testimony, for material that reflected well on William Murdoch and, conversely, badly on the men he worked with. The result, I feel, not only did a great disservice to Murdoch’s fellow officers, but to Murdoch himself. I came away from reading the book not with a greater admiration for Murdoch, but actually feeling he had been de-humanised and reduced to a caricature. Like Mary Poppins, we are asked to believe that he was ‘Practically perfect in every way’ (he merely had the misfortune to sail with the greatest bunch of ill-principled, lacklustre fellow officers White Star ever assembled). I have always had a tremendous respect for Murdoch both as a seaman and as a man, but have never felt the need to denigrate his colleagues to enhance his own performance.

Take, for example, her treatment of the incident involving a passenger during the loading of #1. Traditional interpretations have suggested that the officer who thought a passenger's ungainly entry into the boat amusing was Murdoch — I, however, have questioned this (in the past on this board), and thought it just as likely if not more so that the man in question was Lowe. When Susanne wrote her first book, she thought it was Murdoch and wrote the following:

When boat number one was to be filled, the Titanic's bow had already sunk deeper into the water. This caused most of the passengers to go aft, they thought this was the safer place. And so Murdoch had some trouble in finding passengers to fill boat number one ... The Duff Gordons and their maid went in ... Then two American gentlemen came to the boat and asked if they could get in, too, and were allowed to do so by Murdoch. One of these men was very stout, and he had difficulty in getting into the boat. Finally, he simply climbed onto the rail and then rolled into the boat. Murdoch, who had watched the scene, laughed very amused: 'That's the funniest thing I've seen this night!'

This incident shows Murdochs good sense of humour, and he had not lost it even in the worst moments of his life. But he probably was still hoping for the other ship which was near by to come in time, and this may have eased the situation for Murdoch.


As late as the BTS convention last year, Susanne still adhered to the idea that the officer in question was Murdoch, and she used it in her talk to bolster her contention that Smith was on the bridge and in command of the Titanic during the collision (according to her argument, Murdoch could not have found anything funny if he had thought his career was certainly as doomed as it would be if he were in command). I remember being surprised and commenting to a colleague sitting next to me that I didn’t think it beyond any reasonable doubt that Murdoch was the man who made the remark.

Susanne has evidently come to the same conclusion, as in ACAS we find the following passage:

And quite frankly: It does not sound like Murdoch’s sense of humour, although it would fit with Lowe’s — at least if compared to the 5th officer’s behaviour in lifeboat 14, which caused much dismay amongst the passengers and put Lowe under the suspicion of being drunk.

In other words, when she thought Murdoch said it, it showed courage under adversity, a ‘good sense of humour’ that he somehow managed to retain under the worst of circumstances. But when Lowe said it...well, that just fits in with his appalling behaviour, which caused ‘much dismay’ and put Lowe under suspicion of intoxication. I feel compelled to ask, though — how do we know what exactly Murdoch’s sense of humour was? Although she states authoritatively that it doesn’t sound like Murdoch’s humour, there are precious few examples of it extant to compare with as far as I can tell — certainly few in Stormer’s books.

I questioned Susanne further on her characterization of Lowe, btw — was very curious as to who, exactly, felt ‘much dismay’ besides Daisy Minahan at Lowe’s behaviour in the lifeboats (I am, after all, always on the lookout for new sources, and thought she might have uncovered something). The answer was essentially Daisy Minahan, Daisy Minahan, and then Daisy Minahan. She could produce no other accounts that expressed ‘dismay’. I asked her about the many other accounts that specifically commended Lowe on his conduct in the lifeboats…Sara Compton (who was quite categorical in her remarks about how he personified for her the finest examples of British sailorly tradition), Clear Cameron, Nellie Walcroft, Rene Harris, Selena Rogers, Edith Haisman, etc etc., but received no response. Their evidence regarding Lowe (and she savages him some more elsewhere) is completely ignored. Likewise, it would have been rather fairer and more even handed to state that Lowe was a total abstainer and therefore could hardly have been drunk — having raised the ‘suspicion’, she does nothing to dispel it (I also asked her if she had any other source than — once again — Minahan for the allegation that his conduct created an impression of intoxication. I did not receive a response. One woman’s allegations do not mean that there was general impression Lowe was drunk, nor does her disapproval amount to ‘much dismay’).

One thing I was glad to see Susanne do was to attempt to bring Wilde’s role more to the forefront. This officer is so often marginalised in accounts of the sinking that it was pleasing to see she had done some work on him and had a few positive things to say about the Chief Officer. I remain unconvinced, however, about Lightoller’s supposed antagonism towards Wilde.

Susanne is scathing of what she believes is Lightoller’s ‘editing out’ of Wilde’s role during the Titanic — she goes so far as to accuse Lightoller of ‘literally’ killing Wilde again (a disconcerting phrase — one wonders what he used the first time…knife, candlestick, the Webley?). While I don’t think there is any real evidence at all to support her contention that Lightoller regarded Wilde in an adversarial manner, in effect Susanne metes out the same ‘editing’ treatment to James Moody of which she accuses Lightoller.

Murdoch is depicted as manfully and heroically launching the starboard aft lifeboats without the assistance of any of his fellow deck officers. During the loading of No. 9, we are told that:

Quartermaster Wynn, an Oceanic man, was ordered by 6th officer Moody, another Oceanic man, to got [sic] to boat 9 and take charge of it as Wynn did not know to which boat he belonged. However, there is no indication that Moody was working on the starboard side then or on future occasions.

Murdoch, we are then assured, was supported by ‘the Adriatic family’.

Come again?? No evidence that Moody was then or later on the Starboard boats? Let’s look at exactly what Wynn said:

13320. I do not want to take you through the whole story, I presume it is quite unnecessary; after a time did you hear this, the Captain giving an order to you and another quartermaster, to go and get the two accident boats ready? - Yes.

13321. I want to omit the earlier part, you see. Did you obey that order? - Yes.

13322. After that did you go and help to clear away at various lifeboats? - Yes.

13323. After that did you meet the Sixth Officer Mr. Moody, who told you to go to your own boat? - Yes.

13324. Did you know your own boat? - No.

13325. Did you ascertain what was your own boat then? - No, not then.

13326. Did you go to a boat? - Mr. Moody told me to go to number nine boat and take charge of number nine.

13327. Whether that was your right boat or not, you do not know? - It was all ready swinging out on the davits and he told me to take charge of No. 9, as I did not know my own boat.

13328. Did you take charge of No. 9? - I got in and assisted the ladies in; and when we started to lower away the boatswain's mate got into the boat, and I handed charge over to him, and took an oar.


So Moody specifically ordered Wynn to go into #9, which was then ready for loading and lowering. Wynn makes no mention of crossing over the boatdeck — and why, one wonders, would Moody send him over the other side of the deck? If Murdoch was in charge of loading #13, why would Moody — on the other side of the boatdeck — order him to take command of a boat he (Moody) had nothing to do with loading?

Furthermore, there *is* - in spite of Susanne’s claim — other evidence that Moody was working at the Starboard boats. Hemming specifically mentions him working at collapsible A. Susanne, however, discounts this — in the book, for no reason other than that she believes Moody was working with Lightoller. (The sole justification she gives for this belief is Gracie sighted a man he later identified as Moody early in the evacuation, possibly near 4 — oddly, we are to assume that Moody then followed Lightoller around like a puppy. We are therefore asked to believe for no discernable reason that Lightoller lied about not remembering having seen Moody all evening).

There is also evidence that Moody was working at #13 — moreso, I believe, than there is testimony that Murdoch was there!

Lee gave the following evidence:

2527. You mean there was scarcely anybody in No. 13 boat? - Yes. Mr. ---- , I cannot tell you what his name is - a tall Officer, about 6 feet in height, fresh complexion - I forget his name; I could not remember his name - he was there attending to passing the passengers into the boats.

2528. Was it Mr. Wilde, the Chief Officer? - No, He is about the Sixth Officer, or the Fifth Officer.

2529. At any rate, he was a very tall man, according to you? - Yes, tall and spare. I think he was drowned.


A tall spare man (and he got Moody’s height correct to within an inch), fresh complexion, ‘the Sixth Officer, or the Fifth Officer’, who was drowned. I think there can be little doubt about whom is being referred to here.

So as for there being no ‘evidence’ that Moody was on the starboard boats, we have Wynn, Hemming and Lee. There is also a singular *lack* of evidence to the contrary that places Moody on the port side after the loading of 14-16 (She also makes the rather bizarre assertion that we have only Lowe’s evidence that Moody was at 14-16 — this is factually incorrect). But why should Susanne be apparently so determined to place Moody anywhere else but in the proximity of William Murdoch? The answer seems to be that it does not accord with her Oceanic v. Adriatic ‘Families’ theory. She gives a glorious description of a last stand by the Adriatics’ crew at A, under their near superhuman leader, William Murdoch…indeed, perhaps he was going to take command and save them all!

Did Smith recognize the Adriatic family who was at that boat? Murdoch, steward Brown — possibly also the ABs George Clench, Holman and Matherson…they had been serving with this 1st officer for many years, would they really leave him alone when the end was that near? Had they silently agreed that boat A was to become their boat — with Murdoch in charge? Time was working against them. Did they believe that nothing would happen as long as they were with Murdoch? Surely this lad could face and master anything and surely he could even force the sea to obey his orders…

Shades of King Canute!

James Moody was, in Susanne’s sharply polarized ship’s crew, an ‘Oceanic Man’. He could not therefore, by her reasoning, have been at Collapsible A…or assisting Murdoch at the aft starboard lifeboats…or even, God forefend, be in charge of loading 13 himself. That would be putting a cuckoo in the Adriatic nest!

I could go into greater detail as to why I strongly disagree with her characterization of the supposed Adriatic / Oceanic schism, which I think is a tremendous disservice to the professionalism of many men — among them James Moody, who was every bit as heroic as William Murdoch, and who does not deserve to be edited out because he doesn’t fit an author’s pet theory.

This is getting rather lengthy, or I’d like to go into more specific examples of other criticisms. The tendency to interpret sources to the enhancement of Murdoch and detraction of his colleagues (Lightoller in particular) becomes almost comical at times, as in her highly subjective ‘analysis’ of some of the photos. Her comments on the Medic photo of the deck officers are quite amusing (unintentionally so), and her remarks about the ‘last photo’ taken at the gangway door verge on the bizarre, so biased are they and so determined to wring every last drop of praise for Murdoch possible from any source.

I also had issues with the romantic idealisation of Murdoch’s relationship with his wife Ada. On the remarkably scant evidence available, the resulting portrait is rather unconvincing. I also took issue with her presentation of some pieces of evidence — where is the source for her claims regarding the woman who interrupted the American Inquiry asking about Murdoch’s fate? This passage is unfootnoted — a curious omission in such a heavily footnoted work, and it leaves me wondering if this is pure speculation on Susanne’s part, although unidentified as such.

Poor Lightoller is taken to task for having a good time on his off-watches. I wonder what Susanne would think of the boisterous camaraderie of the crew of the Terra Nova in the officer’s wardroom on their way to the Antarctic — they put any of Lightoller’s rollicking to shame. I sincerely hope that William Murdoch had as good a time as Lightoller did, and got up to precisely the same sort of shenanigans.

There are some striking facts and material compiled in this book, and some interesting theories and rather beautiful passages. But if William Murdoch was even half the man Susanne says he was, I think he’d be the first to leap to the defence of his colleagues after the mauling they received in this book. The pity of it is, I don’t think Murdoch needed to have those around him cut down to make the Titanic’s First Officer look good by comparison. He already stands high enough on his own two feet, and doesn’t need to be propped up by the pulverized reputations of others.
 
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I have been hammering out my review for this book for some time now and it is almost ready for public consumption. I think Pat & Inger have very effectlively expressed the books strengths and weaknesses, so some of my review will be mirroring their comments, even though I came to my conclusions completely independent of them. as a matter of fact it is striking how the three of us came to such very similar conclusions. I hope to have my full review up within a day or two.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Kritina, I wouldn't go that far. By any account, Susanne has done some very extensive and exhaustive work on the subject of a man we know surprisingly little about. Like any book, be mindful of it's weaknesses even as you appriciate and learn from it's strengths. That's why I ordered a copy.
 
Nov 12, 2000
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Hi all,
the latest shipment of Susanne's book has just arrived today and are available at my store in Tampa, Florida.

if you would like to order a copy, please contact me privately. the cost for the book is $45. shipping within the U.S. is $5. I can also ship worldwide, but that would be more expensive, so if you live outside the U.S. you might be better off buying the book directly from the author.

you can pay with credit card, check or money order (although the last two must be drawn on an American bank). if you would like to call in your order, the store is open 10 to 6 Eastern Standard time. within the U.S. call 1-800-781-6060, elsewhere 813-684-1133.

for complete details, please see the information on the Book Store page of my website:

http://titanicbooksite.com/bookstore.html

the books on that page are listed alphabetically by author, so you will have to scroll down a bit to see the Störmer listing. the complete ordering instructions are at the bottom of that page as well.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T

p.s. Mike S, your copy is already processed and will be on the way to you asap.
 
Nov 12, 2000
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Pat & Inger's comments have inspired me to knuckle down and put the finishing touches on my review.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T

Susanne Störmer. William McMaster Murdoch, A Career at Sea. A Review.

The historical biographer has a real task on their hands, attempting to bring to life a human being based solely upon that individual’s personal writings and what has been written about him by others. The challenge is that much tougher when the subject of the biography primarily lived a private, as opposed to a public life, as little to no writing about the individual by others was ever recorded. The difficulty explodes exponentially when the subject died an early death, never having the time to explain the experiences of his life in his own words.

There are almost no surviving writings from Murdoch himself, and just as little about him in the family archives. His entire life is essentially undocumented except for his one moment on center stage, his command of the bridge of the Titanic when the ship hit the iceberg. Even this moment is transitory at best, as Murdoch did not survive the disaster. History is denied his version of what happened that night. What little we do know is based on second and third hand testimony.

Such were the challenges faced by this author in attempting to bring William McMaster Murdoch to life. Considering all of these difficulties, it is astonishing how much Störmer has unearthed about Murdoch, and how well she fleshes out the facts from sterile documents to bring us her vision of who Will Murdoch was.

And make no mistake, this biography is the author’s vision of Murdoch. She takes many pieces of factual data and extrapolates them into a form that brings the man to life. How well she pulls off this feat is left up to the reader to decide. I think she has developed one version, but not necessarily the only version of who Murdoch was, and what drove the man. The strength of this book is that she gives the reader both the facts she has documented, and then her interpretation of those facts. The foundation is there for the reader to decide for themselves whether her vision is accurate or not.

This clever combination of fact and vision is the primary reason I enjoyed this book so very much, even though I happen to disagree strongly with a great many of the author’s conclusions. But more of that later. First some comments about the format of the book. It is broken down into several major sections. The introductory section dwells briefly on Murdoch’s parents and his childhood. It continues in some depth into the young man’s career in the sailing vessels, starting as an apprentice and rising in the ranks to the position of first mate. Following is a short section discussing his move into the ocean liners when he joined the White Star Line. This section discusses his start as fourth officer on the Medic through his promotion through the ranks and ships to first officer on the Olympic. The next substantial part of the book discusses his very short time on board Titanic and the tragic events that followed. Finally there is a wrap-up chapter discussing his widow’s life after Murdoch was lost in the disaster. Scattered throughout are many wonderful photographs of Murdoch during his career, and of many of the places he visited during his voyages.

But that is not yet the extent of this book. There are substantial appendices bursting with additional information. Appendix one discusses the portrayal of Murdoch in the various Titanic films. She mentions all the major movies, but the bulk of her attention is given to James Cameron’s film. As one can imagine, she has tremendous problems with Cameron’s depiction of Murdoch as an officer who would accept a bribe, shoot a man in cold blood, then commit suicide. Störmer is blistering in her attack of Cameron’s portrayal of Murdoch. This appendix also includes a short commentary with Dorothy-Grace Elder, one of the principal organizers of the Murdoch campaign that tried to set the record straight about the film. There is also a brief commentary with Ewan Stewart, the actor who played Murdoch in Cameron’s film.

Appendix two returns to a discussion of the evidence behind the real voyage of the Titanic. It is entitled merely Deductions, but that one word covers a wealth of detail including a very comprehensive discussion of ice warnings received by Titanic, a very intense discussion of her theories as to what really happened on the Last Watch (the watch in which Titanic struck the berg), and an extensive discussion of whether an officer actually committed suicide and her belief that it could not have been Murdoch.

Appendix three is a very detailed, if not virtually complete record of the voyages Murdoch made during his career and the shipmates he served with on each voyage. This appendix also includes a list of White Star Line captains according to Lloyd’s Register of Ships.

The book wraps up with some further information, acknowledgments, etc. There is a good bibliography at the end and a very extensive section of footnotes. The sum of of all this material is probably as comprehensive a view of the life of Murdoch that anyone can ever hope to amass. The amount of research that went into the writing of this book is obvious, and very impressive.

As mentioned earlier, I did have serious reservations about some of the author’s conclusions. I cannot say too much without spoiling the book for those of you who have yet to read it. Suffice it to say, that Störmer has arranged her facts in such a way that Murdoch is no longer the responsible officer in charge when Titanic has the fateful meeting with the iceberg. Her conclusions for this major revision in what are the accepted historical facts are based on what I consider to be extremely speculative evidence. Much of it based on an offhand comment fourth officer Boxhall made during the U.S. inquiry, a comment that I feel can be interpreted just as easily in other ways. When an author is going to offer up a radically different version of history than the one commonly accepted, the weight is on them to make their point beyond a reasonable doubt. She builds a circumstantial case for her version of events, but it is far from convincing.

I was also disturbed by her negative portrayal of most of Titanic's other officers, especially Captain Smith, second officer Lightoller, and fifth officer Lowe, all of whom she treats almost with contempt. Captain Smith gets especially harsh treatment, the author practically accusing him of criminal negligence in the performance of his duties. Again, I found the evidence for her conclusions about these men unconvincing. It was also surprising to me that nowhere does she even mention the very strong friendship that existed between Lightoller and Murdoch.

Despite my misgivings with her theories about how the disaster played out, and who was responsible, I feel there is more than enough new material to make this book an important contribution to the literature, especially with how it fills out Murdoch’s career at sea.

A special comment must be made about the style of the writing. The author is German, and English is a second language to her. Yet she wrote this book in English and it is a testament to her skill that unless the reader is informed otherwise, they will never realize she was not writing in her native tongue. She had the editing assistance of three English speaking friends to help her over the language bumps in the road. Their corrections are seamless and do not interfere with the author’s style, making for a very enjoyable reading experience.

Finally, one other aspect of this book must be acknowledged. Most people don’t think of a book as a physical object, but rather as the sum of its text. This book deserves special recognition for its wonderfully high printing standards. It is a hefty, solid book, that really feels the way a book should feel in the reader’s hands. It is beautifully stitched and solidly bound. There is even a cloth ribbon bookmark bound into the spine. It is the most attractive binding I have had the pleasure to handle in a very long time.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Good to see such an even handed review, Mike! I think many people are heading in the same direction we are with our assessments of the book's strengths and weaknesses. It's pretty much the consensus among those I've discussed it with privately.

The book is a real curate's egg, Kritina. I hardly know what to make of it. On the one hand, it is wonderful to have so much material - much of it from primary sources - assembled in one easily accessible volume. On the other hand, I suspect that the author has been forced into extracting as much as she possibly can from too little extant data. Sometimes extrapolation and speculation are fascinating - if identified as such - but at other times it seems to be drawing far too much from too little. Susanne has a tendency to use the words 'obvious' and 'obviously' very liberally, and quite often when something is simply *not* 'obvious' at all, but rather a highly subjective reading.

Take, for example, the variation on the Oedipal complex she constructs for Murdoch's relationship with his father, a ship's captain. The evidence, I feel, simply doesn't support the conclusions she reaches. They're a possibility, yes, but I don't buy it at all. She suggests that Murdoch felt the need to supplant his father (whom one could be forgiven for imagining was the most famous sea captain ever to sail into Liverpool from how she describes him), but rather than 'kill' him, he opts to go into steam as a way of carving his own identity without the figurative father murder. Possibly. And just as possibly, he was doing what every other young ambitious officer with half a brain was doing. Even James Moody received copious advice (much of it from lubberly, well meaning relatives) to get out of sail and into steam. A useful comparision is Joseph G. Boxhall, who was himself from from a seafaring family (father, grandfather, uncle, etc etc). He came from a line of ship's masters, and his father, Joseph Boxhall, was a well known and respected captain with the biggest line out of Hull - one of the most prominent on the East Coast. Captain Joseph Boxhall was at least as well known and successful in his own circles, if not more so, as Captain Samuel Murdoch was in his. But in all the material I've had from the family, there is no evidence that Joseph G Boxhall - a smart, ambitious young officer - ever felt the same anguished struggle that Susanne projects onto William's relationship with his father. Perhaps both men felt a need to do the old man proud, or even do better than him...but there is no direct evidence of the emotional struggle that she writes of.

One of my biggest reservations is that Susanne doesn't always distinguish between what is fact, what is based on fact, and what is speculation. Her comments on woman at the American inquiry are a case in point. One could be forgiven, having read so much footnoted material, for missing the fact that her interpretation is entirely Susanne's theory, not fact.

It is difficult to be critical of a work that is so obviously a labour of tremendous love - the author has obviously poured all her efforts and considerable talent into this work. It's just a pity that one gets the impression that she has become so close to her subject that her judgement has become rather clouded. Come hell or high water, William Murdoch will be exhonerated completely. As I've chuckled over with friends, I kept half expecting her to argue that William Murdoch never even clapped eyes on the ship!
 

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