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The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions Paperback – March 16, 1999
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Cox dissects the actions of Bruce Ismay, director of the White Star Line, which built and maintained the Titanic, on the fateful night of its sinking. The image of Ismay climbing into a lifeboat and rowing away with his back to the sinking vessel is just one of the lasting, eerie memories portrayed here. Cox has taken the court testimony of passengers, sailors, even a ship's cook, and helped put a human face on the survivors of the wreck; unfortunately, some of those faces would be distasteful to look at, considering the actions of their owners. Cox regales us with tales of the lifeboats and the human struggle going on aboard as some payoffs were made and some boats skedaddled from the site of the sinking ship with all due speed, while many floundered about in the freezing water. Cox has the necessary scorn for Ismay and others whose actions were less than heroic, and his critic's approach to the affair reveals that the event truly did change people's lives. Joe Collins
A stellar blend of analysis and primary source material: good for both recreational reading and history studies. -- Booklist YA, 4/1/99
At a time when the popular media's distortion of the Titanic's story reaches its zenith, this persuasive clarification and debunking of public misconceptions is particularly welcome; it must form an essential part of any Titanic student's library. -- Philip Armstrong, Secretary of the Ulster Titanic Society
In 87 years the story of the Titanic has been reduced to slogans and soap opera. The Titanic, we are told, was doomed from the start by arrogant certainty in technology and progress. It was a time when rich people got out and let the poor sink.
Stephen Cox, professor of literature and director of the Humanities Program at the University of California at San Diego, argues modern moviemakers have radically simplified the Titanic story and essentially falsified it.
The lessons drawn from the Titanic are more debatable than they are made out to be today, Cox writes, and in any case are not what makes the story the cultural icon it has become. We remember the Titanic because it was a morality play. Ordinary people were forced to make "lifeboat" choices usually left to college philosophy classes. -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/17/99
There are more comprehensive treatments of the Titanic than this book, but none that better conveys why we should care how a couple thousand people spent two hours in the middle of one hellish night in the North Atlantic eighty-seven years ago. -- The Weekly Standard, 5/31/99
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Everyone knows how the maiden voyage of the Titanic ended. It's so much a part of cultural literacy, Cox argues, that the real essence of the story -- the people who were involved and their complex choices -- has been lost. The Titanic Story offers an alternative interpretation of the event, courageously treating the victims of the disaster as people instead of moral archetypes, and showing how they, as individuals, were subject to the timeless challenges of being human.
His argument is compelling. After reading the Titanic Story, one is likely to agree with Cox that the Titanic disaster not only deserves, but in fact needs, to be apprehended as a complex human drama. Viewing it this way re-establishes the individuality of the victims, and draws them off the drab, flat canvas that popular history has confined them to. Cox reminds us, through judiciously selected stories and interviews, that the choices of passengers and crew aboard the sinking Titanic were the result of difficult, mostly impromptu balances of facts, and that even apt foresight isn't always enough to avoid a moral (or literal) disaster.
The Titanic Story is also easy to read, and it has a friendly, discursive tone that's a lot like listening to an unassuming person talk about a matter in which he is well-informed and thoughtful. It brings a literary interpretation to bear upon a serious historical event without getting maudlin or indulgent (he uses the stage metaphor in moderation); it is funny when it's appropriate to be funny; and what's more, it is convincing.
Professor Cox's book is an important, unique addition to the corpus of Titanic literature.