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How to Survive the Titanic: The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 11, 2011
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“Wilson gives an absorbing account of the disaster and its cultural associations.. . her approach yields a rich meditation on the mere moment’s hesitation that separates cowardice from courage.” (Publishers Weekly )
“It is a pleasure to read a book…that offers something new on this topic. Titanic completists will certainly want this, and also…readers of biography and Edwardian-era history.” (Library Journal )
“The author demonstrates an impressive knowledge of that night to remember. ” (Kirkus )
“Wilson herself casts a Conradian spell…finds submerged truths, unravels riddles, listens to echoes. This book is a deep reading of the catastrophe through one hapless, inert man.” (Hermione Eyre, Evening Standard )
“A haunting story…A meticulously researched and eloquently written account of one of the twentieth century’s most iconic disasters [that] explores a man ‘mired in the moment of his jump.’” (Lucy Scholes, Daily Beast "Must Reads" )
“A gripping retrospective on the Titanic disaster seen through the eyes of the wealthy ship’s owner…and an inspired interweaving of the moral themes of guilt and responsibility” (Richard Holmes, Wall Street Journal )
“A gripping account…Wilson brings a bright new perspective to the event raising provocative moral questions about cowardice and heroism, memory and identity, survival and guilt.” (Forbes )
“Persuasive…examines the disaster afresh through the prism of Ismay’s life…Ultimately, Wilson’s portrait-empathetic rather than sympathetic-depicts Ismay as an Everyman troublingly suited to our own uncertain times.” (BusinessWeek )
From the Back Cover
On April 14, 1912, as one thousand men prepared to die, J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the RMS Titanic, jumped into a lifeboat filled with women and children and rowed away to safety. He survived the ship's sinking—but his life and reputation would never recover.
Examining Ismay through the lens of Joseph Conrad's prophetic novel Lord Jim—and using Ismay's letters to the beautiful Marion Thayer, a first-class passenger with whom he had fallen in love during the voyage—biographer Frances Wilson explores the shattered shipowner's desperate need to tell his story, to make sense of the horror of it all, and to find a way of living with the consciousness of his lost honor. For those who survived the Titanic, the world was never the same. But as Wilson superbly demonstrates, we all have our own Titanics, and we all need to find ways of surviving them.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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The book does start off interestingly enough as we experience the sinking and the loss of life and the survivors. If you've read other books on the TITANIC, there is really nothing new in this book. Of course, if you know nothing about J. Bruce Ismay, it's a good primer on the sinking and on Ismay's life.
I agree with other reviews who don't see the connection to the constant comparison of Ismay to Joseph Conrad's LORD JIM, which is referenced over and over.
I had hoped for so much more and was sadly disappointed.
Ismay was the president of the White Star Line. He was instrumental in having the ship built and was its biggest promoter and cheerleader. He was also present on the ship's maiden voyage and also the symbolic scapegoat for the disaster that claimed hundreds of lives due to a combination of poor planning, ineptitude, and a multitude unfortunate circumstances that culminated in one of the greatest maritime disasters of the 20th century. If all that wasn't bad enough, ismay also survived the Titanic. As it would turn out, that was probably one of Ismay's greatest offenses because he was labeled a coward and a villain and held up to public scrutiny for the rest of his life.
With its snappy title, I expected this book would be loaded with information about the Titanic, its sinking and its aftermath. I also hoped this book would provide information about Ismay's life and his involvement in the Titanic disaster. While my expectations were met to the extent that there was plenty of biographical information which included details about Ismay's personal life, his family, and his business decisions and career, the author continually tried to draw a direct connection to the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness with allusions to John Galsworthy and the Golden Age tossed in.
I personally found the literary allusions irritating, redundant, and tiresome. It bogged down an interesting story that could easily stand on its own. Often, this approach is used to make literature seem relevant when teaching, but trying to draw a comparison between Ismay and a fictional character really has little impact other than irritating a reader.
I liked the factual information included in this book, but the literary tangents brought this book down for me.
Secondly, if Wilson disliked her subject as much as she disliked Ismay, why did she spend two hundred and fifty pages writing about him (and "Lord Jim")? Her dislike of him seeps, no, oozes off of every page. Several times she refers to his behavior as cowardly and insults him at every turn. While I don't think every author needs to like their subject, when one writes so negatively about them as Wilson does about Ismay, I tend to find that I trust the author less. Wilson presents nothing but a deeply biased portrait of what is really an interesting man, a victim of his time, and a victim of public opinion.
No matter what you may think about him, J. Bruce Ismay deserves better than this sinking catastrophe.
The author starts off with promise, and she does offer some obscure facts and interesting tidbits about the disaster. But instead of sticking to her story she then veers off into a psuedo biography of Conrad and a study of his work Lord Jim.
The only possible connections I can see between Conrad and the Titanic are that one; a manuscript of his was lost with the ship, two; he happened to be alive when the disaster occurred, and three; his novel Lord Jim takes place on the ocean and the Titanic sank into...the ocean. Beyond that there just isn't any connection, no matter how persistantly Ms. Wilson strains to find one, at her readers expense.
If you're a Conrad fan you may like this book, all others should avoid it completely, and that includes Titanic buffs, in fact, especially Titanic buffs.