• Dead Wake

  • The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
  • By: Erik Larson
  • Narrated by: Scott Brick
  • Length: 13 hrs and 4 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (13,378 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the number-one New York Times best-selling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania, published to coincide with the one-hundredth anniversary of the disaster.

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds", and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat,but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their ways toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

©2015 Erik Larson (P)2014 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"As events escalate toward the momentous sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania by a German U-boat during WWI, this comprehensive history reads almost like a novel, and that's exactly how Scott Brick narrates it. He adds emphasis where needed, goes quieter when appropriate, and varies his pacing effectively. His narration doesn't get in the way of the writing - it enhances it." (AudioFile)

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What listeners say about Dead Wake

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Naivety VS Barbarians Of War

This amazing book offers a 360 degree birds-eye view of the history of these WWI events from multiple perspectives. A harrowing, engaging and throughly shocking story that kept me hanging on each word. I think Brick did a great job with the narration.

The book skillfully blends the cold dispassionate stories of U-boat attacks and the use of chemical weapons contrasted with the blind trust of the passengers of the Lusitania traveling into a war zone and the manipulative nature of the Admiralty and Room 40 trying to draw America into the war. A full picture is painted and a deeper understanding of life in the WWI years is made deftly available to the reader.

Recommended to history lovers who enjoy blow by blow accounts that place a human face on distant events. Truly a story of senseless murder on the high seas. Many questions are left unanswered in this retelling of negligence vs conspiracy theory incident vs random coincidence. Be forewarned not for the faint of heart. Wow.

68 people found this helpful

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'A Deed for Which a Hun Would Blush'


On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania departed from New York on the return leg of her 101st voyage. Six days later, 11 miles off the coast of Ireland, the Lusitania was struck by a German torpedo at 2:10 p.m. and within 18 minutes (the Titanic took 2 hr. 40 min.) the Lusitania slid into the water. A NY newspaper's headline read “A Deed for Which a Hun Would Blush, a Turk Be Ashamed, and a Barbary Pirate Apologize.”

The seeds of disaster may have been sown before the Lusitania even left NY when the Cunard Line and the passengers chose to brush aside the official warnings from the German Embassy. Kaiser Wilhelm had declared 8 months earlier that the North Sea was now a war zone, in which all merchant ships, including those from neutral countries, were liable to be sunk without warning. Adding heft to the facts that Larson presents, are the damning little mistakes and coincidences, plus the what-if's. He strategically lays out the pending disaster and shows how relevant it all is -- how 5 min. either way could have changed history. And, at times it felt like everything conspired against the Lusitania.

Historians have flirted with the notion of a conspiracy orchestrated by Winston Churchill to prod a neutral United States into the war in Europe. While Larsen doesn't set out to prove or disprove that notion, the information he gives does push the reader in one of those directions. Citing comments by King George V: “Suppose they should sink the Lusitania with American passengers aboard?” and Churchill: “For our part, we want the traffic [from America] - the more the better; and if some of it gets into trouble, better still.” And naval historian, the late Patrick Beesly's interview with the Imperial War Museum in London: “there was indeed a plot, however imperfect, to endanger the Lusitania in order to involve the United States in the war.” I suppose a conclusion here calls for a higher form of deductive reasoning than if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck.

Balancing the facts with the human elements and the political theater, Larson keeps the integrity of history, but gives it an easily held timeline and some pizazz -- even though we know what's coming, Larson's signature is skillful telling that builds anticipation. (Though his talent can occasionally be an impediment, as in having to read over pages of the ship's manifest. The minutiae at times is more a curiosity than it is interesting.)

What happened adds up to more than just a series of horrible coincidences. : Why wasn't there a military escort into the Channel; why was a boat responding to the mayday ordered to turn around; why did *Room 40* not let the Lusitania know the information they had decoded; and...why were approximately four million rounds of U.S.manufactured Remington .303 bullets in the Lusitania's hold? Larsen puts the questions in your mouth, but don't expect him to give any answers. Not a lot of new information, but it's still history like only Larsen does history.

Scott Brick's talents seem well suited reading this kind of book.

56 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Too Much Fluff

I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out just exactly what Woodrow Wilson's love life had to do with the Lusitania sinking. And not just a little is included; I now know more than I ever knew or wanted to know about the subject.

Seems like Larson uses the same method most of my tenured sociology profs used in their publications--namely, cram those suckers full of anything even remotely related to the subject and re-use long phrases and statistics over and over. Padding, I think is the term. Of course, I for damsure know the rate at which water comes through an open porthole, and for that I'm thankful.

Seriously though, I really think the book would have been much better trimmed down to somewhere between maybe half and two-thirds of its length. But maybe Larson was paid by the word. Thank goodness for Mr. Brick, whose narration alone kept me from skipping the first half of the book entirely.

52 people found this helpful

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What a Ride!

Erik Larson has done it again. I knew that the sinking of the Lusitania was one of the causes for America's entrance into WWI, but was never curious enough to find out more details. With Larson’s fascinating reenactment of all the facts, he was able to show how so many people had a unique part of the history of the tragedy of the Lusitania. Larson’s facts and anecdotes about President Wilson, Churchill, the German U20 pilot, the Lusitania capain and so many of the passengers and crew made for a full history of events. He also gave me a clear view of life in 1915.

Larson has done this brilliant re-telling before with his many history books of which “The Devil in the White City” is my favorite. If you have any interest in history, be sure to get this audiobook. I enjoyed it immensely.

47 people found this helpful

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Superb story teller

Where does Dead Wake rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I only read Non Fiction. This book is one of the better books I have read about a historical subject matter.

Who was your favorite character and why?

No particular character was a favorite. It was just the overall book.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, and I did it was that good.

Any additional comments?

This is not dry reading. I felt like it was story hour. It reminded me of how glued I was as little kid when my mother would read me a really good story. Larson lays out all the information and historical facts surrounding the Lusitania. The facts are interesting, some I did not already know about the Lusitania.

39 people found this helpful

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Larson writes history that reads like fiction

But it's not fiction. I wasn't sure I'd be interested in the Lusitania, but but I enjoyed Larson's other books so much, I thought "he might be able to do this one". I wasn't disappointed. From the logs of the U boat captain, British naval and government records, and diaries and statements of passengers, Larson weaves a narrative that reads as easily as good fiction. I put him in the category of Doris Kearns Goodman and Laura Hillenbrand.

22 people found this helpful

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U-Boats. Sinister. Fascinating

I am a 33 year old male without formal education. I adore history books if the story holds my attention, but I'm usually a fiction reader. Dead Wake got me off good!!!!

20 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Crashingly Tedious Narration

What did you like best about Dead Wake? What did you like least?

The narration is hideous. Is it too much to ask that a sentence such as 'Kenneth poured himself a glass of water' doesn't get read to the audiobook listener as if it's 'Kenneth poured himself a beaker of blood'?

Would you be willing to try another book from Erik Larson? Why or why not?

I think I'm done.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The whole Keith Morrison dolorous act is just so overdone, it makes the book unread (listen-) able.

Do you think Dead Wake needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

The 100 year anniversaries of WW1 will no doubt give us plenty of better books.

20 people found this helpful

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Fascinating, haunting

Yet another extraordinary Erik Larson book that proves that history can be as dramatically riveting as any work of fiction, especially in the hands of a brilliant storyteller. I've not been a Scott Brick fan in the past, but he does a fine, understated reading here. This is on par with Larson's best previous work (Devil in the White City, In the Garden of the Beasts). Well worth the credit!

18 people found this helpful

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Larson excellent, blends big themes with humanity

Larson is in fine form, weaving together the small details of the passengers and crew of the Lusitania, a history of the ship, an overview of international relations, a truncated bit of biography of President Wilson during WWI before the US entered the Great War, a peak into Great Britain's Room 40 as it secretly read Germany's encrypted messages, and an exploration of the captain of submarine U-20 on the patrol that would bring it into a fateful meeting with the Lusitania. Where the fate of the ship is so widely known, Larson must work hard to build the suspense. He does this ably by making sure the reader is introduced to enough individuals to make their journey across the Atlantic fraught, as you begin to wonder who will and won't survive, and start picturing the agony that passengers and crew would feel if separated from siblings, lovers, spouses, friends, or children.

As Larson puts together the larger picture and sets the scene, we range from German U-boat captains, to a widowed Woodrow Wilson, to a pugnacious Winston Churchill, to a ship's crew lacking extensive experience. He lets us in on the reasons for various passengers' trips, describes the treasures they brought with them, and what they hoped for out of the Atlantic crossing. Interspersed with the intensely human details are lovingly rendered descriptions of the ship, and worrying revelations about the German's intentions toward Atlantic shipping and the uneven protection offered by the British Admiralty in response. The reader gets a very focused examination of a small part of World War I, seeing how warfare was beginning to change, how targets that were not wholly military were being stalked and that civilians were quickly becoming casualties.

With disaster looming, the reader knows that the Lusitania is speeding toward Britain but that its final destination will not be a dock but a sinking. At least 80% of the book covers the lead up to that disaster. And when the torpedoes strike, the reader is likewise struck with how luck (good for the U-boat, bad for the Lusitania) plays such a role in the event. Larson's description of the 18 minutes between torpedo strike and ultimate sinking are gripping, harrowing, and somber. He recounts impossible decisions: do you first rescue your sleeping child one deck below or your playing toddler one deck above; do you take the step off of the rail even though you can't swim; is there time to retrieve a life vest; should you search the ship for loved ones or get onto a lifeboat; do you lift one more floating person into a raft and risk capsizing it? Through use of interviews and written accounts by survivors, as well as diaries from passengers, Larson has masterfully recounted events (and personalities) leading up to the event, the reality of the sinking ship and struggle for life itself, and the aftermath.

And that aftermath manages to be troubling, confusing, mournful, and hopeful at once. Most troubling was the British Admiralty's immediate decision to try to blame the entire event on Captain Turner (the man in charge of the Lusitania), despite the fact that the Admiralty itself ignored some clear warnings and did not provide basic escorts for the Lusitania's protection. Suggested reasons abound, ranging from conspiracies to try to force America's hand and make them join the war to too jealously protecting intelligence to mere ineptitude. For the passengers themselves, after the sinking it meant waiting for rescue in cold water (some dying of hypothermia), finding out that companions had died, having to identify bodies. And for relatives of the passengers, there was a long wait to get word, and rife confusion where some where told their loved ones had died when they were in fact alive, or worse, that they were alive when they were actually dead. But for all the despair, there were fortunate reunions, husbands and wives, and two brothers in the crew. And of course bittersweet moments where some, but not all, of a family survived, or one person surviving where a companion perished. Despite the tragedy and some British strategists' beliefs that the 100+ deaths of American citizens would drive the country out of its isolationism, it would be years yet before America entered the war. Regardless, the sinking of the Lusitania was bellwether of changing norms and, when America finally did get off the fence, still something that struck the heart of the nation.

17 people found this helpful