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Customer Review

on March 12, 2012
I cannot believe it's taken the impending 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to compel me to finally delve into Walter Lord's 1955 recounting of the great ship's final hours, A Night to Remember. As detailed in the foreward to the fiftieth anniversary reissue, Lord possessed a lifelong, enduring fascination with the doomed Titanic, perhaps born out of a childhood trip on her sistership Olympia. Irregardless of the origin, Lord's passion for the subject shines in this slim volume's tightly-plotted recreation of the ship's final hours and the sinking's aftermath. Lord was in the unique and enviable position of being able to interview over sixty survivors of the sinking for his book, which he then incorporated into a blow-by-blow recreation of every moment -- from the collision with the iceberg to the Carpathia's rescue of less than a third of the Titanic's total passenger list. Lord's brisk, documentary style makes you feel as if you're watching a film of events unfold, lending the gradually dawning realization of the enormity of the danger facing the ship a depth and intensity that makes this an absolute page-turner.

As Lord comments in his acknowledgements, A Night to Remember "is really about the last night of a small town" -- and by extension the beginning of the end for an entire way of life. I confess that while I've always been susceptible to the "Titanic mystique" I never really thought about the socio-economic repercussions of the tragedy. From the massively wealthy movers & shakers (i.e. John Jacob Astor IV) to the poorest immigrants in Third Class, Lord lays out a convincing argument that the Titanic was the "last stand of wealth and society in the center of public affection" -- to wit, the loss of that class's exclusivity on privilege and relative immunity to bad press. A whole way of life, the close-knit culture of the First Class passengers, an air of civility and chivalry, all of that vanished on that icy night in April, rocking the world to its core and paving the way for the unsettled political and socially charged atmosphere of the 20th century.

This is an even-handed, balanced presentation of the events of April 14, 1912 and its aftermath. Lord manages to present what I feel is a relatively unvarnished view of events, but tells them in such a compelling manner that one never loses sight of the horror and human toll of that fateful day. A Night to Remember is not only an extraordinary document of the ship and her time, but of the best and worst that mankind is capable of, and of the dangers of letting the legend eclipse the great human toll of that night, and of what we can perhaps learn today from the ordinary men and women on that voyage who found themselves called to do extraordinary things.
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