Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review: A Night to Remember

Hailed by some as the definitive resource of the Titanic disaster, "A Night to Remember" tells the tale of the doomed ship's maiden, and only, voyage in April 1912. Published in 1956, today it has the appearance of a dime store novel, but a fantastic read it is. Forget Leo and Kate, this non-fiction story recounts the disaster as remembered by survivors and webbed together by author Walter Lord.

We all know the "ship that could not sink" sunk after striking an iceberg somewhere in the middle of the freezing Atlantic. Cool and collect Captain Smith declared the collision fatal and ordered women and children into lifeboats. Ten miles away, a wireless operator on the ship Californian had retired earlier as SOS calls from the world's largest ship went unanswered. Two hours and forty minutes later, 1,500 people went down with the ship or were left flapping helplessly in that cold hell. Only 700+ survived to tell the tale

Upon learning the ship had struck an iceberg, Chief Baker Charles Joughin retired to his room to drink copius amounts of whiskey. Sometime later, after all the lifeboats were gone, when the ship began to roll to one side, Joughin ran down the side of the ship with "marvelous equilibrium". Then he calmly notched up his life vest and jumped into the 28 degree ocean, without even getting his hair wet, just as the Titanic went down. Accounts say that he survived three hours (although the length of time is debated) in the freezing Atlantic. Some say that this was a result of the amount of alcohol in his blood.

One of the take home points the book makes is the gallantry of some (but not all) after their fate was sealed:

Captain Smith was said to shout to those who were doomed - "Be British, boys, be British! all the while the band played "Nearer, My God, to Thee"

"'That's all right, boys; keep cool' one of the swimmers replied when they asked him to stay clear (of their lifeboat). Then he swam off, calling back, 'Good luck, God bless you all'"

"Men would go on being brave, but never again would they be brave again in quite the same way. These men on the Titanic had a touch - there was something about Ben Guggenheim changing to evening dress (as the ship rolled on the surface during its final moments) ...about Howard Chase flicking his cigarette as he waved to Mrs Graham...Today nobody could carry off these little gestures of chivalry, but they did that night"



Andy said...

I have always adored this book.

KLIM said...

Yes, it is a very good and simple read and there are plenty of other great quotes/stories in the book. As a breaking news junky, I was particularly fascinated by the wireless technology and how news of the disaster traveled.

I bought it for $1 at a used bookstore.