Report into the loss of the SS Titanic - A centennial reappraisal

Report into the loss of the SS Titanic  -  A centennial reappraisal

Halpern et al., with foreword by J. Kent Layton, The History Press 2011

The genesis of this book was remarkably short, all things considered, it having been conceived by Sam Halpern only in August 2010, when he wondered how the1912 British Wreck Commission would have reported, had it known then what we know now.   Luckily, Sam had to hand a congregation of Titanic researchers upon whom he could call to contribute in their own areas of expertise, so the task was not quite as impossible as it might at first have seemed.

To get the academic stuff out of the way first, it should be said that this is a book densely packed with facts and theory, and very well illustrated with diagrams and photographs which contribute greatly to the understanding of evidence which may sometimes otherwise be rather difficult for the armchair mariner.   It is meticulously referenced, and has high production values.

SS Titanic Centennial

So what of the book?  I will not single out any particular contributor as I realise they are operating as a team, but great credit must be given to Sam Halpern as the progenitor and lynchpin of the project.   Given his original idea  -  that of wondering what the Inquiry would have decided had it had our knowledge  -  the contributors are mostly technical researchers, because that was the remit of this, and the original, Inquiries.  What were the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Titanic?

The structure of the book is excellent, beginning with a succinct summary by Dave Gittins of both 1912 Inquiries, the American and the British, before proceeding to a description of the ship which can only be described as masterly.  But then, having reviewed a previous book by Beveridge and Hall, I would have expected no less.  For anyone new or only vaguely familiar with the Titanic it is well worth while reading this section carefully, as it brings home the tremendous complexities of a large passenger liner and illuminates, particularly, the problems involved in communication and evacuation.   The textual description is, of course, accompanied by blueprints of the ship, though given the scale inevitably imposed by the size of the book, I would recommend anyone over 45 to buy a pair of reading glasses if s(he) hasn’t already.    I had to fetch the magnifying glass my father used in his 90s, and very useful it was too, to visually track the description of access to the Boat Deck for passengers and crew, and other information.  

The disaster itself is introduced with an account by Lester Mitcham of the lost and saved among passengers and crew.  Readers inclined to sociology or sentiment should note that this section, befittingly, is entirely factual and makes no comment on class or nationality issues.

Next, Sam Halpern begins his odessey of closely-documented observations of navigational issues which form the backbone of this book, embracing as it does the Titanic’s journey westward and, later, the difficult issues surrounding the SS Californian and the SS Mount Temple.  A description of the Titanic’s journey gives rise to little controversy until the night of the 14th April, of course, but the Californian has given rise to possibly the greatest cause of argument over the years.   Before such controversy is reached, however, a great deal of ground is covered in scholarly detail concerning the damage to the ship (Halpern & Weeks), the evacuation of the ship and the saving of the fortunate (Wormstedt & Fitch), and the desperate problem of the inadequacy of both lifeboat provision and logistics (Gittins, Akers-Jordan & Behe).  The authors remain scrupulously devoted to fact as proven at the time and since, and where they speculate, they only do so when both stating – and questioning – their own assumptions.  It makes for good reading.  

In the chapters on the Californian and the Mount Temple, Sam comes into his forensic own.  But you’ll need to pay attention, despite the fact that he is a terrific one for providing illuminating diagrams.  I found myself compelled  --  somewhat reluctantly at first, but later with rather more enthusiasm  --  to brush up my hazy (and lazy) understanding of such things as dead reckoning, the meaning of “true”, how compasses work in steel ships,  the precise definition of bearing, current, drift, abaft, reciprocals, and refraction etc. etc.  You might scoff, but if you’re going to understand Sam’s reasoning you might have to do a bit of revision yourselves.  It is entirely possible to drift along, as it were, without making the effort and just take Sam’s conclusions for granted, but given the controversy surrounding the Californian, I think there may well be quite a few people who will be poring over these chapters and looking for chinks in Sam’s forensic armour.  All I can say is “good luck”  -  it won’t be easy.  

The disaster is rounded off by Chirnside and Gittins describing the aftermath.  Not, as you might think, a humanitarian account, but an account of modifications made for safety reasons in the wake of the disaster, and the establishment of SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea).  

Some people may wonder at the lack of personal information or comment on the people involved, but that is because the book remains true to its remit:  to re-envisage an Inquiry, given what we know now.   For those many people who are primarily interested in character, personal circumstances and the unfamiliar  -  and often seemingly unfeeling  -  attitudes of 1912, there are many other sources of information and speculation.  However, I would still recommend this book to them because forensic evidence can do so much to contextualize one’s gut, and perhaps less objective, opinions.   For this reason alone, I would recommend that James Cameron reads it, in particular the section on locked gates.  

The book concludes its purpose with a chronology of events, with references and notes.  I can only assume that this is based on Sam’s Excel file which he has built up, with the help of others, over the years.  It is quite mind-boggling, and leads into a summary of the findings of this 2011 report.

If you only buy one Centennial book, I would suggest you should buy this one.   For some readers, it may lay the whole issue finally to rest, but to others it may just provide a fresh challenge.  Which will be interesting for us all.  But it won’t be easy to argue with these authors  ...  there’s Sam’s diagrams, for a start.

Authors
Samuel Halpern, Bill Wormstedt, Bruce Beveridge, Steve Hall, Captain Charles Weeks, Dave Gittins, George Behe, Mark Chirnside, Lester Mitcham, Tad Fitch, Cathy Akers-Jordan, J. Kent Layton

Acknowledgements

Monica Hall

Comment and discuss

  1. Matthew Farr said:

    I saw this book on Samuel Halpern's website and it says it's due to be released in November. The list of authors that collaborated on it is impressive, Halpern's, Beveridge, Hall, Behe. No doubt it is a must have. I am wondering where I can pre-order it from. I checked all the book sites as well as the publishers site but could not find it anywhere. Can anyone help me out here, I really want this book!

  2. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    >>I am wondering where I can pre-order it from.

  3. Matthew Farr said:

    I found it! It can be pre-ordered on amazon.co.uk. It is listed at 17 pounds (I hope that's right, I'm from the U.S.) For those of us here in the States, amazon.com just has the option to be put on a list for notification of when the book is available. I found the ISBN for it as well, it is 978-0-7524-6210-3. No luck finding it elsewhere but its a start.

  4. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    This work is due out in mid-April but Amazon is already taking pre-orders. Given that it's written by a veritable varsity team of top Titanic researchers, this is going to be a definate "Must Have" for the serious researcher, historian and enthusiast. Information at

  5. avatar

    Steven Hall said:

    Mike, the book went to the printers last Friday. All going well it should be available via Amazon UK late November. You'll have to order it through the UK site if you want it before Christmas. What began as a collaborative undertaking by a group of researchers from all parts of the world in 2010 has culminated into a new book, Report Into the Loss of the SS Titanic — A Centennial Reappraisal, The History Press, 2011. The book is the result of many years spent researching, evaluating and analyzing the wealth of evidence that has come to light in the hundred... Read full post

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  6. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    >>You'll have to order it through the UK site if you want it before Christmas.

  7. avatar

    Steven Hall said:

    The footage on the site of Titanic isn't permanent. It will be replaced soon with a video clip of one of the co-authors talking about the book. The Loss Of The SS Titanic, A Centennial Reappraisal by Samuel Halpern, Bill Wormstedt, Bruce Beveridge, Steve Hall, Captain Charles Weeks, Dave Gittins, George Behe, Mark Chirnside, Lester Mitcham, Tad Fitch & Cathy Akers-Jordan; Foreword J. Kent Layton. I wonder which co-author it will be ?

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  8. Matthew Farr said:

    Just finished reading this book and all I can say is WOW! I'm a bit mystified that there has not been any discussion about it on the boards here yet. Has anyone else picked up a copy yet?

  9. avatar

    Samuel Halpern said:

    Matthew, As one of the authors, would you believe that I have not received my copies of the printed book yet? I know that the book had been printed in late November, and is now in the distribution process. How did you get it so fast?

  10. avatar

    J. Kent Layton said:

    I think we have our first recorded "in-print" sighting. Congratulations to Sam and the team on the publication of this wonderful book.

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  11. Matthew Farr said:

    Hi Samuel, I pre- ordered your book from Amazon.uk the vey first day that amazon allowed it. I think that was sometime in early October. They shipped it out on Thanksgiving Day and I received it here in Michigan the following Monday. I was quie surprised at how fast it was shipped across the pond.

  12. avatar

    Samuel Halpern said:

    Well Matthew, as it turned out, I posted this morning about not receiving my own copies of the book, and somebody in the USPS must have took note. Late this afternoon they finally arrived across the little pond; i.e., the one separating northern IL from MI. Thanks for the kind words Kent. We're all very proud about the accomplishment. It should make a great companion to one that you folks are coming out with.

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  13. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    Looks like those of us who have to depend on Amazon may have to wait a spell. No matter, if what I'm seeing here is any indication, it's going to be one of the "Must haves" and I'm looking forward to it.

  14. avatar

    Steven Hall said:

    Mike, this will likely prove to be (in my opinion) the best Titanic book published in the last decade; a book I also see being made into a feature documentary . . ., it's that good.

  15. avatar

    Jason D. Tiller said:

    I'll be purchasing this book as soon as I can. Looking forward to it!

  16. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    >>...a book I also see being made into a feature documentary . . ., it's that good.

  17. avatar

    Philip Hind said:

    Our review of this title is nearly ready. Sorry to see that the authors don't consider ET a "website worth visiting"! :-(

  18. Tad G. Fitch said:

    Matthew, thank you for your kind words and thoughts on the book. Like Sam, I haven't even seen it in print yet, so you're one ahead of those of us who wrote it, haha! It was a great pleasure being able to work on this project with Sam, Steve, and all of the other talented researchers and friends that were involved. I hope that everyone will enjoy it and find it informative. All my best, Tad

  19. avatar

    Samuel Halpern said:

    Phil, The selection of which websites to list as "worth visiting" was a collective decision among all eleven coauthors. The list was purposely kept short, and I will say that uniqueness and objective content rather than popularity was given greater weight for inclusion. However, just because a site is not on our list does not mean it is not worth visiting. ET shows up numerous times in many of the references cited throughout the book. Many of us, including myself, have contributed quite a number of papers and other materials to ET as well as other sites over the years. You really should... Read full post

  20. avatar

    Philip Hind said:

    I need to revise my post. I was not actually complaining above - I am sorry and surprised to see a site you all use so regularly omitted from a list of sites you would recommend. But you don't have to justify your decision, it is your book and you can recommend what ever and whoever you like.

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Citation

Encyclopedia Titanica (2011) Report into the loss of the SS Titanic - A centennial reappraisal (Titanic Review, ref: #14822, published 7 December 2011, generated 24th May 2020 11:41:09 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/report-into-the-loss-of-the-ss-titanic-a-centennial-reappraisal.html