Like the analogously named books about World War I and World War II, inter alia, this small book on the Titanic is replete with excellent pictures, entertaining fact-boxes, and reader-friendly infographics. Sean Callery is a journalist and teacher who has written about the Titanic before, and here contributes to the “50 Things” series with an excellent, photo-filled history.
The Titanic was the largest ocean liner ever made when it was built in 1912. It sank early on the morning of April 15, 1912 on its maiden voyage, however, after colliding with an iceberg on the way from Southampton on the south coast of England, to New York City.
Disasters always capture our imaginations. Andrew O’Connell, an editor with the Harvard Business Review Group, has written about the phenomenon, and summarized our fixation in an interview:
“Well, disaster stories are great. . . . you always want to know how they’re going to end, you know, what’s going to happen. But even more than that, they’re really great to read because you put yourself in the place of the person who’s been lost in the woods, or knocked overboard, or whatever it is. And you think . . would I be able to survive that, would I have the grit, or would have the strength. But even more is the question of, would I be able to make some of those difficult choices that people in disasters often have to make. And the moral stakes, if they’re really high, they can make a story incredibly gripping.”
For these reasons and more, few people don’t find the story of the Titanic fascinating. The Washington Post reported in 2012:
“There are more than 100 Titanic-related museums and monuments worldwide, and on March 31 , Belfast added another to the list, unveiling a $150 million tourist center on the slipway where the Titanic was built from 1909 to 1911.”
More than 1500 people lost their lives in the disaster.
The wreckage was not discovered until late 1985. Since then thousands of objects have been retrieved and studied.
The author puts the tragedy in context by including background on the state of transportation and technology at the time, and on the demand for transatlantic voyages by both emigrants and by wealthy vacationers.
He reviews the process of constructing the Titanic and explains how it was powered – it used 750 tons of coal a day!
He also provides an overview on who the passengers were, especially interesting because of the cost of the trip. There were 2,223 people on board the ship. A first-class ticket (of which 325 were sold) cost 870 pounds, the equivalent of about $100,000 today. Some of these passengers brought their own staff along as well. There were also 284 second-class passengers who paid approximately $585 in today’s dollars, and the rest, 708 people, were in third class, or “steerage,” for which they paid around $365 each. These third-class passengers came from at least 20 countries, and many did not speak English. They were confined below behind locked gates with armed guards, and permitted on deck for only one hour a day. Third-class passengers also shared only two bathrooms, one for men and one for women. Additionally, there were 891 crew members.
The author lists some of the cargo the ship was carrying, including 3,000 bags of mail, 12 cases of ostrich feathers for fancy hats, 79 goats’ skins, and even a car, belonging to a first-class passenger. Callery explains how the passengers passed the time and what they ate (for example, the ship carried 40,000 eggs). (You can see more on a list of interesting facts about the Titanic here.)
The topic of icebergs is also given coverage.
Some of the better-known passengers are profiled in a “Who’s Who” at the end of the book. A glossary is also at the back.
Evaluation: There is good reason for the continuing popularity of books and television series and movies about the Titanic – the disaster aspect, the shipwreck angle, the class conflicts, the famous people aboard, and the romances, to name a few. Titanic, the 1997 American epic romance-disaster film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet was the first film to reach the billion-dollar mark, remaining the highest-grossing film of all time until 2010. Before that, the 1955 book A Night to Remember about the disaster was, and still is, hugely successful.
The author of “50 Things” found many ways to include engrossing aspects of this subject, and all the photographs add immeasurably to the story. There are many more gripping aspects of what happened that could not be included in this short format, so it will undoubtedly inspire readers to dig deeper. At minimum, I don’t think anyone is going to be bored by the history lessons in this book.
Published by QEB Publishing, Inc., 2016