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Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster (Updated Edition) Updated Edition Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393340808
ISBN-10: 0393340805
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The largest movable object ever constructed by man when it was launched, the supposedly unsinkable Titanic has inspired novels, songs, poetry, movies, and even a mysterious black stoker named Shine who never existed on the actual ship. Steven Biel traces all these avatars and explores the social and cultural myths that the disaster gave rise to--and destroyed. The recent attempts to raise the Titanic's wreckage have demonstrated that the myths have not lost their power. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Another book on the Titanic, but this one deals not with how the great ship went down but rather with the disaster as a cultural icon and how, from the very beginning, in 1912, it has been used to promote all manner of ideological positions. Biel's tone is sometimes stiffly academic, sometimes almost playful, but his curiosity, fortified by a good deal of inspired research, has produced a new look at an old story that is both entertaining and instructive. The first half deals with the immediate reaction to the sinking. Feminists and anti-feminists fought over the meaning of the traditional naval call of "women and children first": Did it reflect chivalry? Or the infantilization of women? Socialists used the sinking to attack the excesses of capitalism. The vessel surfaced in folk music, especially in the black community, where an entire genre of sometimes ribald verses about a black crew member named Shine flourished. The second half of the book deals with how the Titanic's story has been preserved. Biel (Independent Intellectuals in the United States, 1910-1945) examines films (including a Nazi propaganda movie), novels (Danielle Steel, Clive Cussler) and music (even Bob Dylan) and spends a good deal of time on Walter Lord's A Night to Remember, as a book (1955), TV show (1956) and film (1958). Biel concludes his provocative social history with a look at various clubs formed by Titanic enthusiasts and at efforts to exploit the wreckage of the ship. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Updated Edition edition (March 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393340805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393340808
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,034,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Plenty of books recount what happened the night the Titanic sank, but this one does something different. It traces how people have understood that night, mostly in the United States, in the decades since. For example, the Titanic figured into the arguments of both opponents and supporters of women's suffrage in 1912. It entered into African American culture in the form of folk songs and spoken-word poetry (the precursor to rap). It's been the subject of poems, novels, songs, musicals, and (of course) movies. James Cameron's 1997 film--the highest grossing movie of all time--is just one attempt to make the disaster speak to contemporary concerns.

With intelligence and wit, Biel shows that many meanings can come from an event. If you want to read a narrative account of the Titanic disaster, try "A Night To Remember." But for the hows and whys of remembrance, read this wonderfully researched book, which is gracefully written and often funny.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the few Titanic books currently in print which does more than rehash the same old sinking story. Instead, it looks at the reaction of society to the greatest marine tragedy of all time.
The success of Biel's book hinges on his meticulous research and thorough reporting of his findings. One chapter examines how the New York press reported the tragedy in the days following the sinking. Many authors are content to re-state what the New York Times said (accurately reporting that the ship had sunk), and what the New York Sun said (inaccurately reporting "All Saved From Titanic After Collision"). Biel digs deeper, and presents a range of reactions that vary from honest, dedicated journalism to wild speculation.
Biel's also examines how the Titanic affects us to this day. His analysis of Titanic movies such as "A Night to Remember", "Titanic" (1953), and "Raise the Titanic" give the reader a new perspective on these often-overlooked films. More than cinematic re-tellings of the sinking, they reveal the feelings and values of the people who made them.
Although it is not the most exciting of novels, it is a brave work that, like prospectors looking for gold, successfully finds new material in a world of tired, re-hashed, and looked-over facts.
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Format: Hardcover
"Down With the Old Canoe," is a detailed rendering of the
sociological impact of the Titanic disaster, from the time
of her sinking to modern day "enthusiasts."

Harvard educated Biel seems to want to include every tidbit
and piece of trivia he can find on the impact the sinking had
on the day-to-day lives of the worlds populace.

He accurately chronicles the delay in America of women being
given the right to vote; tying that decision into the chivalry
shown by the male victims of the sinking.

No sermon given on the evils of wealth for wealth's sake is
left unmentioned as it pertained to the millionaires who lost
their lives.

Moden day "enthusiasts" and their reasons for being so enamored
of the lost vessel are explored in depth, and make for fascinating
reading.

But Biel, himself, remains aloof from the subject; he never
even attempts to connect, personally, with his subject. In the
final chapters, he reveals that had been his intention: to not
cast his person in the book itself.

That aloofness; that lack of "first-person" gives "Down With
the Old Canoe," a strange dichotomy. At times (especially in
those areas dealing with the modern enthusiasts), is is as
fast and entertaining a read as a current issue of Time, Newsweek
or People magazines. At others, the story Biel attempts to relate
is as dry and dull as attempting to read a term paper.

Titanic afficinados will enjoy this book; others may want the
more thrilling "A Night To Remember."
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Format: Paperback
In his introduction to this book, Steven Biel begins by saying that he doesn't "get" the fascination with the Titanic disaster. Which is fine - you don't have to be passionate about a topic to be a good researcher, writer, or historian. And if he had stopped there and simply continued to write an objective history, everything would be cool. Unfortunately...no. Mr. Biel then goes on to state the "fact" that the Titanic disaster is not historically significant in any way and has no inherent properties that could possibly resonate with anyone. Therefore, anyone who expresses interest in the topic can't genuinely be interested in it (since it has no inherent value). Instead, these people must have some sort of deep internal flaw or unmet need which causes them to grasp onto the disaster to support their individual agendas. I'm not making this up, exaggerating or misinterpreting; this is literally what is stated in the book.

All that being said, the first few chapters of the book are actually quite informative and well researched and pretty interesting. They deal with contemporary reactions to the disaster and how each individual group used it to support their specific platforms, beliefs, and agendas. Even though in retrospect I can see that this really is just setting the groundwork for the author's attack agenda later on, I feel that it's a pretty decent historical account.

Unfortunately, once we move further on through time towards the present day, the book really begins to fall apart as the attack on the Titanic enthusiast becomes more naked and vicious. This got more tedious and repellent.
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