on January 30, 2012
Straight away in his introduction author Beau Riffenburgh confesses this book is NOT the definitive work on the Titanic, .....indeed could that ever be written now?
However, as I have a very extensive collection of Titanic books and publications, I could not help adding this one to mark the centenary of the ship resting on the bottom of the Atlantic, and as the title suggests, it's obviously aimed at filling that very bill. So what's it like?
Well if you are new to the subject it's certainly well presented. It comes in a neat presentation box, and looks very glossy.
There are chapters covering all the usual areas; ....pre-existing ships; the concept, the planning; the building and then the tragic but familiar tale unfolds, ending with the inquiry and aftermath.
There are some very well reproduced photos. They have been expertly sharpened and retoned, .....a few will be unfamiliar to newcomers, but as just about everything pertaining to Titanic has been published already, for the enthusiast there's not really anything new.
The big seller is the addition of several large envelopes interspersed throughout the text, filled with facsimiles and reproductions of various documents relating to the ship and the voyage. They will be of interest to some, specially the young I would imagine but again it's really only paper ephemera such as tickets to the "electric bath" and oft-reprinted plans etc. etc.
The text itself is an interesting retelling of the now familiar story, .....however it does contain some strange anomalies.
It states that nothing is known of the fate of Captain Smith, and repeats the romantic but imaginary notion of him standing on the bridge as the ship sinks .....and yet this book reproduces the very quote from Harold Bride wherein he clearly states that he saw Smith dive from the bridge into the ocean just before the ship went down!
Considering Bride was one of the very last to leave Titanic and survive, and a member of the crew who would have certainly recognised his own Captain, I found this disregarding of actual eyewitness testimony odd to say the least. There are several similar oversights. These could have been corrected and the text better married with the interesting accounts from various passengers and crew reproduced in the margins throughout.
The author is also VERY firmly on the sympathetic side to the Captain of the Californian, and supports his exoneration by trotting out all the very tentative and supposed "evidence" for the ship so clearly sighted from Titanic during its death throws as being some other vessel, and NOT the Californian. Now while this may all be salve for the conscience of the family of Captain Stanley Lord, the raw evidence from his own crew is clearly against him and all the tenuous attempts at shifting the blame are to my mind just "shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic" so to speak.
The testimony of Lord's own men who reported seeing exactly the same number and colour of rockets fired by Titanic during its sinking and at the exact same time that they were launched are evidence enough to convict Lord's total inaction. He was by all accounts a cranky old bastard and did not want to be disturbed from his warm bed by news of a few people freezing to death in the cold Atlantic in the dark of night.
I was disappointed that this book took such a partisan line on this matter. Surely it should have presented both sides? The very spurious possibility of the sealing ship Samson's interspersion is once again given full credence here. I believe this theory, ...which was always fragile at best, has now been discredited.
Another disturbing error in the book is the incorrect labelling of several photos. This sees what is clearly a group photo of the ill-fated musicians identified as a picture of the subsequently famous tennis player Richard Norris Williams. There's also the matter of a missing cup photo. Surely these mistakes should have been picked up by any astute editor or even a proof reader long before publication?
There is a DVD/CD included with vocal accounts of various aspects of the ship and the sinking. Some are the real voices of survivors and others are later readings of the actual testimonies by actors.
In all I'm not sorry to have purchased this book. It does mark the centenary of the tragedy, ...and there is certainly quite a lot to peruse for anyone interested in the now legendary story. I do like the presentation and the layout, despite a few very obvious flaws in the editing.
It would make a good "one-book" buy if you don't have anything at all on the Titanic saga.
Just make sure you read further on the Stanley Lord/Californian controversy! Riffenburgh is not quite telling all in this section, I assure you.
If indeed you are intending to purchase this book, do make sure you are getting this particular one. I have noticed some confusion here in the reviews with another Titanic book. Perhaps the two have somehow become intertwined here on Amazon?