Thursday, March 10, 2011

#14: Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic by Daniel Allen Butler

I have a confession to make. I am a sucker for the story of the Titanic. Mr. Butler's text is an excellent, factually driven account of the events. It does not involve James "Superdouche" Cameron,  Leo, Kate Winslet.......mmmmmmmm. I like that scene. But I digress.

Butler takes one into the building of the ship and her sisters, which gets across the story of the ship as actually a small city-within-the-cites of Southhampton and Belfast. A truly forgotten item (especially in the movie, which featured Kate Winslet) is the impact of the sinking on both of these towns. Butler's description of the posting of the missing and lost at the White Star office in Belfast is especially moving. One begins to wish that newspapers, which Butler draws heavily from, were still written in such a fashion. Over 90% of the stokers and engineers went down with the ship; not because they were chained to the boilers, but as Butler convincingly argues, it was their place. They kept the electricity going as long as they could to keep the ship in communication and to keep the passengers from panicking for as long as possible. In all, over 76% of the crew died.

What Butler conveys is the humanity of the passengers and crew, not the crass, comic book villainy of Billy Zane and the guy what played Ismay in the movie. Those guys were easy to hate; the only character that the movie seemed to nail on the head was the chief engineer, Thomas Andrews from Belfast. He leaps from the text as a no-nonsense man with a huge heart. He knew most of the people, from the lowest workers to the ownership, at the Belfast dockyards and could rub shoulders with all of them. Not many people can do that sort of thing now, much less in the place and class bound Edwardian era. His hometown, Comber, Ireland, built a Memorial Hall in his honor, which now serves as a school. Every so often, you read about a character from history that you want to meet. In this text, that person for me is Andrews.

Butler's research is excellent, and he liberally takes from survivor interviews, crew narratives and court case files. His treatment of the Californian, a ship close enough to the Titanic when it sank to see the distress rockets, is masterfully contrasted with the Carpathia, whose captain drove his ship at 17 knots through an ice field to reach the sinking ship. Again, Butler is reticent to blame or engage in what-ifs, which adds greatly to the reader's understandings of the motivations of the cast and crew. All in all, this is an excellent piece of work, and highly recommended. Sounds like Kate Winslet.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm...if I were a guy, I would have to say, that like Kate Winslet (only when she embraced her gorgeous curves and ignored the ridiculous ridicule of our media), this sounds like something I could get into. I used to teach the book "A Night To Remember" based loosely upon the real people who worked on and sailed upon the Titanic, but none of it reached out of the pages to make me feel the real tragedies of those lost and those who lost. I'll have to give this one a shot. Thanks for a great review!