Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is a story about the then famous Lusitania luxury ocean liner crossing the the Atlantic from New York to Liverpool in 1915 at the beginning of WWI, as well as the increasingly aggressive German U-boat strategy to sink any manner of ship in the waters around England. Along the journey, Larson brings to life many of the significant people involved – their lifestyles, personalities, struggles, and triumphs.
This is ultimately the story of the sinking of the Lusitania as a result of a German U-boat torpedo attack. However, as Larson points out, this tragedy should have been prevented, and probably could have been. However, it is implied that British leadership, namely Winston Churchill, deliberately blocked efforts to protect the ship in the hopes that this German provocation would be the catalyst for bringing America into the Great War.
Fans of Erik Larson’s previous books know that he is both an astute historian and masterful storyteller. His books always read like novels, while opening a window on a scene from the past. Also, like his previous books, Larson is able to tell two parallel stories which collided together in the end.
If you’re a fan of Larson’s other books, you’ll probably like this book. However, I don’t think it is his best book (See In the Garden of Beasts). At times I felt the description of German U-boats and the men on board these boats to be a bit tedious. Nonetheless, I found the philosophical questions raised with letting the world’s premier ocean liner to be sunk to serve England’s political purposes to be quite intriguing. The consequences of such a decision certainly changed the course of world history.