Dead Wake

Dead WakeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015)

Summary

In May 1915, a luxury ocean liner called the Lusitania left New York for Liverpool, full of passengers. Believing the Lusitania to be safe from attack, passengers and crew traveled through a U-boat-infested war zone, ignoring German warnings. A single German torpedo took out the world’s largest passenger ship, claiming the lives of 1198 people.

Review

Dead Wake is an extremely well-researched non-fiction book. It tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania through its passengers and crew, as well as the German U-boat captain who torpedoed the ship, a top secret British intelligence unit, and President Woodrow Wilson. I liked all the various perspectives, though there wasn’t enough to become attached to any of the characters. I also felt that including Woodrow Wilson’s courtship of Edith Galt should have been left out.

It was a good book and I respect the research that went into it, but I didn’t love it.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • The Lusitania (duh)
  • Well-researched non-fiction
  • World War I
  • American and/or European history
  • Sinking ships
  • U-boats

Kindred

Kindred - CoverKindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

Summary

Dana, a young black woman from the 1970’s, gets spontaneously thrust back in time to the slave society of the early 1800’s. She meets her ancestors (both white and black), endures life as a slave, and even time travels a couple times with her white husband (whom they have to pretend is her owner).

Review

I thought this novel about Dana’s dual life as a modern woman and as a slave was brilliant. She struggles with trying to change attitudes toward slavery while also ensuring that her lineage stays intact, fearing she might cease to exist.

The time travel mechanic is never explained, but that’s because it’s not what the book is really about. Kindred brings slavery to life through the eyes of a modern protagonist, making it feel present instead of something that happened a long time ago. It deals with issues of both race and gender as well as survival, relationships, and freedom.

Everyone should read this book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The antebellum South
  • Racial & gender issues
  • Time travel
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a New York Times bestseller by Daniel James Brown that was published in 2013.

Summary

The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the University of Washington’s 8-man rowing team that shocked the world by winning the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

In an age when Americans enjoy dozens of cable sports channels, when professional athletes often command annual salaries in the tens of millions of dollars, and when the entire nation all but shuts down for a virtual national holiday on Super Bowl Sunday, it’s hard to fully appreciate how important the rising prominence of the University of Washington’s crew was to the people of Seattle in 1935.

They were the poor sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers coming into adulthood during the Great Depression. Rowing was thought of as a prestigious sport for upper class boys on the East Coast. Through exhaustive hard work, determination, and team work, the UW rowing team overcame some impressively tough obstacles to become not just American, but world, champions.

The US Olympic rowing team in 1936
The US Olympic rowing team in 1936

Review

I went into this book as someone who knew nothing about rowing, wasn’t a sports person, and preferred fiction to non-fiction. The fact that I really enjoyed this book should tell you something about how compelling The Boys in the Boat is.

It was maddeningly difficult, as if eight man standing on a floating log that threatened to roll over whenever they moved had to hit eight golf balls at exactly the same moment, with exactly the same amount of force, directing the ball to exactly the same point on a green, and doing so over and over, every two or three seconds.

There is so much detail in this story, coming directly from the rowers, their families, diaries, video footage, and other records. Although the book focuses primarily on one rower, Joe Rantz, it also tells about his dysfunctional family, teammates, coaches, the man who crafted the rowing shells, and the time period (the Great Depression, Hitler, the Dust Bowl, etc.).

Even if you don’t think this is the type of book for you, I encourage you to read it.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Rowing (obviously)
  • Pacific Northwest history (1930’s)
  • Rooting for the underdog
  • The rise of Nazi Germany
  • The Great Depression

Book trailer

Twelve Years a Slave

Summary

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave is a memoir by Solomon Northup, a free-born black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. For 12 years, Northup worked on cotton and sugarcane plantations in Louisiana before he was ultimately rescued and able to go home to his wife and children.

I can speak of Slavery only so far as it came under my own observation — only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person. My object is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage.

Review

Twelve Years a Slave is truly a remarkable narrative and I was blown away by the amount of detail it contained. Solomon Northup provided fascinating and painful insight into what slave life was like.

So we passed, hand-cuffed and in silence, through the streets of Washington — through the Capital of a nation, whose theory of government, we were told, rests on the foundation of man’s inalienable right to life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.

I read the enhanced edition by Sue Eakin, who spent her life researching Solomon Northup’s story. When she was twelve, she read a copy of the book, which had disappeared into obscurity by then. Eakin dedicated her life to researching Solomon Northup’s story and she breathed life into it again by republishing in 1968, annotated with her extensive research notes.

Movie

Solomun Northup’s story was turned into a movie, 12 Years a Slave, which received the Academy Award for Best Picture earlier this month.

Obviously, there are some deviations from the book in the movie (like omitting Northup’s escape from Tibeats through the swamp), but, for the most part, it stays very true to the book, even quoting some of it verbatim. Definitely worth seeing.