6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Minute-by-Minute Account of the Sinking of the Titanic,
This review is from: A Night to Remember (Paperback)
At 11:40 p.m. on the night of April 14, 1912, the White Star liner Titanic, on its maiden voyage to New York, struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic. Less than three hours later, the ship known to the world as "unsinkable" was on her way to the bottom of the sea.
The unexpectedness of the event, along with the shocking number of lives lost (more than 1500 by most estimates) and the many stories of carelessness and incompetence contributing to the disaster, cemented the Titanic into the collective consciousness of Western culture. Countless articles, exhibits, books, and movies (the most famous, released in 1997, grossed over $1.8 billion in worldwide revenue) have documented and fictionalized various aspects of the tragedy. Even nearly a hundred years later, it would be difficult to find someone who had never heard of the Titanic.
In 1955, while many of the survivors of the Titanic's first and only voyage were still alive--and before the journalistic novel became fashionable as a genre--Walter Lord researched and wrote a minute-by-minute account of what happened during the ship's final night. Called A Night to Remember, Lord's account provides an interesting blend of minute details and broad sweeping overviews in its description of what happened onboard the ship.
The book is easy to read and goes very quickly. Lord gives his prose a very journalistic feel, with short sentences and easy language. Entertaining is hardly the right word to use for a description of an event that claimed so many lives, but compelling describes the account pretty well. Lord puts readers right on the deck of the doomed ship, and then right into the lifeboats and, later, into the courtrooms and newspaper editors' offices during the aftermath of the sinking.
Chapters are entitled with snippets of the dialog that occurs within each. Examples include "There's Talk of an Iceberg, Ma'am," "God Himself Could Not Sink This Ship," "There Is Your Beautiful Nightdress Gone," and, perhaps most poignant, "Go Away--We Have Just Seen Our Husbands Drown."
The book's primary weakness is that in trying to include glimpses of so many people's experiences, Lord was mostly unable to go into much depth with any of the individual characters. Unlike later books in this genre--such as Blackhawk Down or The Perfect Storm, both of which describe in detail the experiences of a relatively small number of people during catastrophic events--A Night to Remember has to catalogue the experiences of over 2,000 individuals. Lord manages to include a lot of names, but without any background or detail, they quickly become meaningless.
Though the scope of the book (probably necessarily) minimizes the amount of emotion connected with the tragedy, there are a few emotive moments when the reader realizes along with a child or a wife that a beloved husband or father will not be coming on a lifeboat. Depictions of the wireless operator sleeping onboard the nearby Californian, panicky passengers in lifeboats violently refusing to assist drowning swimmers, and determined high-society men donning formal evening dress to "go down like gentlemen" evoke flashes of emotion as well.
Overall, the book is worth reading for its historically accurate picture of what actually happened on that cold April night. Though it's no literary masterpiece, it is informative and interesting, particularly for anyone who has seen James Cameron's movie or read Clive Cussler's book and would like to know the real story. The book contains nothing objectionable (except for the event itself), and is suitable for any reader. I recommend it without reservation.