In Memoriam: The Titanic

On this, the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic, we have yet another book out on the disaster, but one that promises to be more logical than lurid in it's approach to the already well churned material surrounding the tragedy.

The latest book is Titanic: Nine Hours to Hell - The Survivor's Story by W.B. Bartlett. The publishers blurb for the book call it: "A major new history of the disaster that weaves into the narrative the first-hand accounts of those who survived. It was twenty minutes to midnight on Sunday 14 April, when Jack Thayer felt the Titanic lurch to port, a motion followed by the slightest of shocks. Seven-year old Eva Hart barely noticed anything was wrong. For Stoker Fred Barrett, shovelling coal down below, it was somewhat different; the side of the ship where he was working caved in. For the next nine hours, Jack, Eva and Fred faced death and survived. They lived, along with just over 700 others picked up by 08.30 the next morning. Over 1600 people did not. This is the story told through the eyes of Jack, Eva, Fred and over a hundred others of those who survived and either wrote their experiences down or appeared before the major inquiries held subsequently. Drawing extensively on their collective evidence, this book weaves the narrative of the events that occurred in those nine fateful hours. The stories of some are discussed in detail, such as Colonel Gracie, a first-class survivor, and Lawrence Beesley, a schoolteacher, who both wrote lengthy accounts of their experiences. No less fascinating are the accounts of those who gave gripping evidence to the inquiries, people like the controversial Lady Lucille Duff-Gordon, steward John Hart who was responsible for saving the lives of the majority of the third-class passengers who lived, or Charles Joughin, the baker, who owed his survival to whisky. This is their story, and those of a fateful night, when the largest ship ever built sank without completing one successful voyage."

David Randall, of The Independent, said in his review of the book, ". . . The centenary of the sinking of the Titanic looms, and, with it, the prospect of book after book marking the anniversary. This is, even for mild obsessives of the saga such as myself, not altogether to be welcomed. Our shelves already overflow with volumes about the ship, and we have long since discovered that new books on the subject are liable to be written to prosecute ever more arcane theories. So it was with some foreboding that I opened Mr. Bartlett's offering. What cock-eyed "revelation" would he be peddling?

"Er, none. Instead, we have here quite the best and most level-headed telling of the whole story I have ever read. What makes it so is not just that Bartlett can, unlike the authors of many Titanic books, actually write; but that he brings to the controversies which still surround the sinking a judicial sense of what constitutes conclusive evidence, and what does not. He makes plain that the recollections of survivors are so varied (and often conflicting) that some of the more bitter controversies (such as the role of the SS Californian, five miles away or 19, depending on whom you believe) are only kept going by taking the word of some and ignoring the testimony of all the rest."

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