Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

78%

58 Critic Reviews

One hundred years later, those souls are remembered in an impeccably researched book that brings one of history’s most famous maritime disasters remarkably to life.
-Blog Critics

Synopsis

#1 New York Times Bestseller

From the bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, 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 surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—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. 

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 way 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 and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow 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 whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.
 

About Erik Larson

See more books from this Author
ERIK LARSON is the author of the national bestsellers Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm. ErikLarsonBooks.com
 
Published March 10, 2015 by Broadway Books. 450 pages
Genres: History, War, Biographies & Memoirs, Professional & Technical, Travel. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Apr 19 2015
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Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
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Critic reviews for Dead Wake
All: 58 | Positive: 54 | Negative: 4

Kirkus

Excellent
on Nov 20 2014

Larson...once again demonstrates his expert researching skills and writing abilities, this time shedding light on nagging questions about the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915...An intriguing, entirely engrossing investigation into a legendary disaster.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Mar 14 2015

With a narrative as smooth as the titular passenger liner, Larson...delivers a riveting account of one of the most tragic events of WWI...Larson convincingly constructs his case for what happened and why, and by the end, we care about the individual passengers we’ve come to know...

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by HAMPTON SIDES on Mar 05 2015

If “Dead Wake” is not... a great book, it is an entertaining book about a great subject, and it will do much to make this seismic event resonate for new generations of readers. A century later, the Lusitania remains a daunting subject just as it remains a daunting shipwreck — a dark realm, full of secrets and lost souls.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by JANET MASLIN on Mar 04 2015

Since this is not an easy story either to tell or sell, Mr. Larson uses his skills as a pitchman right from the start. His introductory note bills this as “something simple and satisfying: a very good story” and “a tragedy of monumental scale, whose true character and import have long been obscured in the mists of history.”

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Richard Davenport-Hines on May 07 2015

...discontinuities build up suspense, and make for many people’s idea of a rattling read. However, they sometimes complicate and disrupt the narrative, so that readers who want a swift, clear idea of what happened may feel frustrated. Still, there is nothing standoffish about Larson’s book; he makes every reader feel welcome.

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NY Journal of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Charles S. Weinblatt on Feb 15 2015

Dead Wake is a masterfully researched, engrossing, and evocative book from all perspectives. Larson provides numerous layers of hidden information, including intimate details of President Wilson’s private life that influenced his decision-making.

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Blog Critics

Good
Reviewed by Lidia de Leon on May 13 2015

One hundred years later, those souls are remembered in an impeccably researched book that brings one of history’s most famous maritime disasters remarkably to life.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Jean Zimmerman on Mar 10 2015

I would of course never want to experience first-hand what it was like to be in the water off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915, with the bow of the gigantic vessel fast disappearing beneath the surface (it took all of 18 minutes). But I am very glad to imagine the scene, thanks to Erik Larson's thrilling, dramatic and powerful Dead Wake.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Tim Brady on Mar 07 2015

By choosing to tell a story that most people already know — however vaguely — Larson risks losing impatient readers who open the book anticipating an immediate bang...is a fine book. Larson breathes life into narrative history like few writers working today.

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Examiner

Good
Reviewed by Karina Wetherbee on Aug 04 2015

“Dead Wake” is deeply engaging, very hard to put down, and Larson’s writing respectfully puts the spotlight back on the tragic story of the Lusitania for its 100th anniversary.

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Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by Vit Wagner on Mar 13 2015

Larson doesn’t side with – or against – the conspiracy theorists, although he clearly thinks the suspicions have some validity. Inevitably, not all of the questions concerning the Lusitania’s fate are answered in Dead Wake, but the virtuosity of the storytelling is watertight.

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AV Club

Good
Reviewed by Samantha Nelson on Mar 09 2015

While Dead Wake doesn’t quite recapture the magic of The Devil In The White City, it’s Larson’s strongest work since then. By piecing together how politics, economics, technology, and even the weather combined to produce an event that seemed both unlikely and inevitable, he offers a fresh look at a world-shaking disaster.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Jeff Labrecque on Mar 05 2015

As the two vessels stumble upon each other, the story almost takes on the narrative pulse of Jaws—the sinking was impossible and inevitable at the same time. At no point do you root for the shark, but Larson’s incredible detail pulls you under and never lets you go.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Jeff Labrecque on Mar 05 2015

As the two vessels stumble upon each other, the story almost takes on the narrative pulse of Jaws—the sinking was impossible and inevitable at the same time. At no point do you root for the shark, but Larson’s incredible detail pulls you under and never lets you go.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Brad Hooper on Jan 01 2015

The sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania in 1915 is one of a trio...of the most dramatic and most remembered maritime disasters of the twentieth century...Factual and personal to a high degree, the narrative reads like a grade-A thriller.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Joseph A. Esposito on Mar 30 2015

Dead Wake deals with an event forever bound to a great war, but the story Larson weaves is a gripping narrative of a diverse group of people, how they lived and how they died. He leaves us with the feeling that this tragedy might have been mitigated or maybe even avoided.

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Dallas News

Above average
Reviewed by Joy Tipping on Mar 09 2015

As one reads along with increasing dread, Dead Wake becomes a tragic treatise in “what did they know and when did they know it?”

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Dallas News

Good
Reviewed by Joy Tipping on Mar 07 2015

As one reads along with increasing dread, Dead Wake becomes a tragic treatise in “what did they know and when did they know it?”

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by David M. Shribman on Mar 14 2015

With astonishing clarity Larsen describes how the torpedo — 20 feet long, 20 inches in diameter — hurtled toward its target and how the passengers stood, transfixed, watching the torpedo’s movement toward them, 350 pounds of explosives that changed history.

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Alden Mudge on Mar 10 2015

But what is most compelling about Dead Wake is that, through astonishing research, Larson gives us a strong sense of the individuals—passengers and crew—aboard the Lusitania, heightening our sense of anxiety as we realize that some of the people we have come to know will go down with the ship.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Good
Reviewed by Jonathan D. Silver on Mar 08 2015

“Dead Wake” deftly weaves together a number of Mr. Larson’s fascinations from previous books — technology, weaponry, wartime, Germany, weather and period pieces.

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Open Letters Monthly

Good
Reviewed by Steve Donoghue on Apr 22 2015

Larson’s book is, predictably, also excellent. He opens with a fast-moving and dauntingly thorough stem-to-stern look at the ship herself...Dead Wake is another triumph of popular history for an author who’s so far had nothing but triumphs.

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20Something Reads

Good
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on Mar 12 2015

DEAD WAKE is an intriguing book that will allow readers to once again reflect on the nuances and vagaries of history. It is crucial to always remember how seemingly isolated acts can have devastating consequences. The single torpedo that sunk the Lusitania and brought death and devastation to thousands should not be forgotten.

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Denver Post

Good
Reviewed by Daniel Stashower on Mar 22 2015

This enthralling and richly detailed account demonstrates that there was far more going on beneath the surface — both literally and figuratively — than is generally known.

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Tampa Bay Times

Good
Reviewed by Chris Patsilelis on Mar 25 2015

Filled with revealing political, military and social information, Larson's engrossing Dead Wake is, at its heart, a benediction for the 1,198 souls lost at sea.

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Jacksonville.com

Good
Reviewed by Lee Scott on Mar 29 2015

After an intimate look at the passengers, and soon-to-be victims, who board in New York despite the warning of “unrestricted warfare” from the German embassy, Larson turns up the pace with shorter and shorter chapters alternating between the hunted and the hunter until the actual shot. All in all a significant story. Well told.

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The Miami Herald

Good
Reviewed by LARRY LEBOWITZ on Mar 06 2015

Larson’s sense of wonder and tragedy is palpable as he dissects the “chance confluence of forces’’ that had to occur for Schwieger’s attack to succeed. “Even the tiniest shift in a single vector,” he notes, “could have saved the ship’’ — and altered the course of history.

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Journal Sentinel

Above average
Reviewed by Jim Higgins on Mar 10 2015

Larson sketches the variety of people traveling first-, second- and third-class on the liner, from Alfred Vanderbilt, rakish heir to a fortune, to a 7-year-old boy with measles who was quarantined with his mother during the voyage.

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Chicago Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Anne Jamieson, on Jan 28 2016

Did "Dead Wake" turn me into a raging conspiracy theorist for days after I finished reading it? Yes, but it was an amazing look at a disaster that is oftentimes forgotten. If you adored the movie Titanic, but were especially fascinated by the second half (once the ship began to sink - spoiler alert!), this is a book you will devour.

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Tulsa World

Good
Reviewed by Glenn C. Altschuler on Mar 22 2015

Larson’s goal is more modest: to “marshal the many nodes of real-life suspense and, yes, romance,” surrounding the episode to allow readers to experience it as did the people at the time. With a keen eye for detail, he succeeds admirably.

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Post and Courier

Below average
Reviewed by James Scott on Jun 21 2015

Larson’s account, though wonderfully told, simply doesn’t add much to the existing body of literature other than a new telling of the story.

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Large Print Reviews

Good
Reviewed by Boris Segel on Apr 02 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is a fascinating book, and one that is sure to enthrall a wide cross section of readers from those interested in the history of the First World War and Maritime history, to fans of biographies, and simply anyone who enjoys reading a thrilling adventure story tinged with a bit of a mystery.

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BuffaloNews.com

Good
Reviewed by Stephen T. Watson on Mar 22 2015

The Lusitania likely will remain the “other” maritime disaster of the early 20th century, and Hollywood isn’t going to cast Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie version of its sinking. But “Dead Wake” stands on its own as a gripping recounting of an episode that still has the power to haunt a reader 100 years later.

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South China Morning Post

Good
Reviewed by Jonathan Silver on Apr 19 2015

But in Dead Wake, Erik Larson's latest masterful fusion of history and storytelling, the former Wall Street Journal reporter effortlessly recreates the collision course taken by Turner and the man who would destroy his ship...

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The Australian

Good
Reviewed by Eileen Chanin on May 30 2015

Perhaps the most compelling experience of the event comes from the U-boat commander: the accounts, drawn from Walther Schweiger’s War Log, best achieve Larson’s aim that a reader spend some time in the past and experience the moment.

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Keizertimes

Good
Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer on Apr 06 2015

While it’s a sure-bet for historians, I also think thriller fans will love this book, too. If your heart doesn’t pound while reading “Dead Wake,” in fact, get it checked. You might be dead, too.

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Philly.com

Good
Reviewed by Jonathan Silver on Apr 19 2015

As has become his specialty, Larson wrestles these disparate narratives into a unified story and creates a riveting account of the Lusitania's end and the beginnings of the U.S. involvement in the war.

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Star-Telegram

Good
Reviewed by John Henry on Mar 11 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania has many morals of the story, not the least of which is the need for a healthy and robust media to find the truth among the muck of falsity.

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City View

Good
Reviewed by Harriet Leitch on Apr 22 2015

The personal details of the passengers and crew give the story an immediacy that works well. Larson has covered many significant historical events in the past, each in a very entertaining fashion.

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Inside Business

Good
Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer on Apr 03 2015

While it's a sure bet for historians, I also think thriller fans will love this book. If your heart doesn't pound while reading "Dead Wake," get it checked. You might be dead, too.

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EzineArticles

Good
Reviewed by Holly Weiss on Feb 22 2015

Dead Wake is an important read, not just because of its content. Larson's sensitive treatment of persons involved draws the reader into the emotion before and after the incident.

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Men Reading Books

Above average
Reviewed by West Coast Don on May 10 2015

I’ve always found the pre-WWI and WWI period of history to be fascinating, so I’m glad I read this one. At times, the book was a bit tedious, especially with regard to information about the passengers, but this is a definitive work about the Lusitania, and it’s a must read for any fan of the era.

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Reading Reality

Good
Reviewed by Marlene Harris on May 07 2015

As absorbing as this book is, I do not recommend reading it just before bed. The sinking of the Lusitania is definitely the stuff of which real-life nightmares are made.

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Popcorn Reads

Good
Reviewed by MK on Jun 14 2016

I genuinely liked the people in this book...I felt Dead Wake was incredibly well researched yet it read like a great piece of fiction.

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Lit Lovers

Good
Reviewed by Molly Lundquist on Apr 19 2015

Even more, while we well know the outcome—yeah, the Lusitania goes down; no spoilers there—Larson manages to create a gripping suspense story, one more terrific work to add to his writerly stack!

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She Treads Softly Blog

Good
Reviewed by Lori L. on Mar 03 2015

Erik Larsen is one of a few authors I know I will automatically buy and read any book they write and Dead Wake underscores why that is true. Bravo, Mr. Larson!

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https://historicalnovelsociety.org

Above average
Reviewed by Alan Cassady-Bishop on May 01 2015

There are still questions to be asked, and Larson asks them. Why were there two explosions from one torpedo? Why didn’t the Royal Navy send escorts? He offers possible answers but favours none. What does emerge from this well-researched book is that a combination of mendacity, hubris and pure bad luck led to the sinking.

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https://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com

Above average
on Jun 21 2015

Bestseller Erik Larson brings the Lusitania to life on the 100th anniversary of its sinking. For those unfamiliar with the contours of the tragedy, Larson’s book is a good place to start.

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http://flavorwire.com

Good
Reviewed by Elisabeth Donnelly on Mar 11 2015

Because Larson has such a sense of story, when he gets to the tragedy itself, the book hums along in vivid form. You feel, viscerally, what it’s like to be on a sinking ship, and the weight of life lost that day.

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If You Write It

Good
on Jun 24 2015

It is a heart wrenching story...Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is an amazing book. I highly recommend it.

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Back to Books

Below average
Reviewed by Nicola Mansfield on Sep 20 2015

My interest in history has always been at a social level and this book is more about an event, politics and the military than people so while I didn't find it hard to read, I also didn't find it hard to put down either.

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Words Written Down

Good
Reviewed by Dave on Mar 23 2015

As with all of his books I've read, Larson provides engrossing storytelling along with great detail and what struck me the most from the book was the role played by the British Navy during this period of WWI prior to the U.S. entering the war. It was fascinating...

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Meaghan Walsh Gerard

Excellent
Reviewed by MWGERARD on Mar 09 2015

This is the best Larson has written since The Devil In the White City. He has found the perfect mixture of humanity, intrigue, danger, and lost history to create a compelling narrative.

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http://www.seattletimes.com

Good
Reviewed by Moira Macdonald on Mar 01 2015

Expertly ratcheting up the tension (note how, as the disaster draws closer, the chapters become shorter), Larson puts us on board with these people; it’s page-turning history, breathing with life.

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https://bookpeopleblog.wordpress.com

Above average
on Feb 26 2015

Larson’s story highlights the glamor days of the old ocean liners when people could travel in absolute luxury across the Atlantic, but he also includes an element of dread that all the passengers felt on this war time journey.

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https://anokatony.wordpress.com

Below average
on Apr 11 2015

Reading the Wikipedia article about the Lusitania probably would have been sufficient for me. I really don’t want or need all the minutia about the Lusitania’s final voyage. With his talent for exposition, Erik Larson should be finding more original striking story lines.

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https://julzreads.wordpress.com

Good
on Jan 21 2015

I could understand the ambition of U-20’s captain and the reluctance of President Wilson to enter a foreign war. Larson’s ability to present all sides of a monumentally historic event is what makes him such a great author and his books so captivating.

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https://mswordopolis.wordpress.com

Below average
on Jun 15 2016

...I wasn’t as invested in the story as I was by, say, Titanic...I would have preferred to read their own diaries and books about the experience than getting the whole boat and battle flavor, but that’s my preference in general.

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