A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember - Walter Lord, Nathaniel Philbrick The introduction by Nathaniel Philbreck called this book "the definitive account" of the Titanic disaster, particularly since at the time this book was published (1955) many of the survivors were still alive, and Lord had the opportunity to interview over 60 of them--not something future books will be able to boast. The book is a work, as Philbreck put it, of "narrative non-fiction"--but not, and I appreciate that, a work of "creative non-fiction." Lord in his minute-by-minute of Titanic's last hours pieces together the story using multiple viewpoints--but he never steps over the line into relating things he couldn't have pierced together from the eye-witnesses. I also appreciate how in the last chapter he goes over the conflicting reports and discrepancies (not even how many were lost can be nailed down, although Lord things 1,502 dead is the most accurate number.) Most readers are likely to know many of the details and recognize the names of people involved from the popular films and many documentary programs. On an April night in 1912 the "unsinkable" ship sunk less than two hours after hitting an iceberg. There weren't enough life boats for all the 2,207 passengers and crew. Few among those who went into the below freezing waters of the North Atlantic survived to be picked up by the Carpathia that came to the rescue a couple of hours after the ship went down. There are a lot of striking individual stories of heroism and cowardice, chivalry and ignobility. Reading this reminded me of what Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, said of his experiences in a concentration camp. He said Freud was wrong that people under stress act the same--Frankly said that rather their individual character, for bad and good, is just magnified. It's also quite a picture of a lost age. As Lord put it, "the Titanic was also the last stand of wealth and society in the center of public affection. In 1912 there were no movie, radio or television stars; sports figures were still beyond the pale; and cafe society was completely unknown. The public depended on socially prominent people for all the vicarious glamour that enriches drab lives.” Never again would those in the different classes of travel be treated differently in such a situation--yet back then not even the steerage passengers were outraged over how they were, if not pushed to the side by policy, then not just a second thought, but last. Mostly yes, it was "women and children first." But you still had a better chance of surviving if you were a first class male than a third class child--and Lord explains why.