Reviewed by Senan Molony
Jack Eaton and Charlie Haas are among the most admired and affectionately regarded of all those who put themselves forward to publicly discourse about the RMS Titanic and all the storied history that sailed with her.
At the forefront of things Titanic for 25 years, these men have remarkably never been surpassed as sheer chroniclers and discoverers. From when they debuted on rendering documentary substance to the ship in 1986 - the first edition of Triumph and Tragedy was published in November that year – they have ever since scrupulously presented the record and then kept it either up to date or freshly informed, much of the time through their own research trips.
There were plenty before who were prepared to play fast and loose with the facts (some who also published in 1986, and of course since), but the monumental slab that is this work has always stood as the finest incorporation of what actually happened, from first to last.
Keeping it current is a feat in itself. The first edition went into reprint and was subsequently replaced by a second edition in 1994 that featured the authors’ own colour wreck photos. Several imprints of that edition followed, and now the third has taken its place.
Re-badged under Haynes Publishing, having flown the flag of the subsidiary Patrick Stephens Ltd on previous launch, this version is sixty pages longer than the already-hefty second edition and contains 100 additional photographs.
While the back page blurb claims ‘significant additional text,’ one of the strengths of T&T, as one tends to call it – indeed a very great strength - is that the prose seems to ghost its way between the photographs in the most unassuming manner. The text is there if you want it; nobody is shouting at you; and certainly no agenda is being imposed.
The narrative, one detects, is deliberately spare, devoid of editorialising and confined to meticulously cataloguing detail – names, places, dates, incidents. The photographs on the same page are very frequently of those very names, places and incidents. Heaven. And we now have no fewer than 416 large-size pages to dwell upon – paradise indeed.
If there is a scrapbook feel, in one sense of looking at it, it derives very often from the poor quality of 1912 newspaper photographs, none of which is rejected on the dubious grounds of ‘production values,’ the all too common catch-cry of many a pompous printing house, and which frequently grates with other authors writing of this period when delivered from on high and in almost contempt of history.
The images are what they are, triumphantly un-photoshopped (to stoop to a colloquial verb form), and the interested reader is passionately glad that they are there at all. One heartily embraces the uneven quality of the illustrations and is jealous of the Parnassian heights that Eaton and Haas have reached that no sly scalpel would now even dare to seek to slice out a single grubby visage.
T&T is the single-volume work one finds oneself turning to again and again to check a fact or get a sense of anything in particular – and this is especially the case with the passenger list (with all credit to Mike Findlay and Bob Bracken), easily accessed and alphabetical, which is still more time-efficient than wandering to any website, even this one.
If the passenger list is an ever-robust high point of T&T, then a matching crew list in the same format seems called for in order to make the book thoroughly indispensable. But to mention this is to sigh that the Venus de Milo has no arms… and it may even be a lacuna that could be remedied in a fourth edition, if such is ever vouchsafed us.
T&T has something extraordinary about it, and it seems to be this felicity – that its lavish nature is never intimidating but instead welcoming in the way of a treasure trove. It will gladden the heart of any 13-year-old boy, and turbo-drive their interest further, just as it delights the seasoned specialist who peers into the background of a photograph for further esoteric information, or whose eye lights on a new picture of the face of a witness, already familiar from inquiry transcripts.
From collectibles to gravestones, concert programmes to views of other ships on the North Atlantic that night, this is the one publication that really does go closest to claiming to have it all.
And now one imitates Eaton and Haas and ceases to write to length – the cognoscenti know the worth of T&T already, and it is weighed in the troy ounce. A triumph indeed in this expanded third edition.
If ever shipwrecked, yet allowed by ministering angels of grace to save a single volume for the remaining years marooned upon a desert island, the discerning Titaniac could hardly do better than to ask for this one.
Titanic: Triumph And Tragedy (third edition)
John P. Eaton & Charles A. Haas
ISBN: 978 0 85733 024 6
RRP in Britain: £30 Stg.