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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book Review: Titanic: A Survivor's Story by Colonel Archibald Gracie

 
Titanic: A Survivor’s Story by Colonel Archibald Gracie
Unabridged, 7 hr. 1 min.
Blackstone Audio, Inc
Frederick Davidson (Narrator)
December 1, 2006
★★★½☆☆

Genre: Memoir, Historical Non-Fiction

Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“Here is a survivor's vivid account of the greatest maritime disaster in history. The information contained in Gracie's account is available from no other source. He provides details of those final moments, including names of passengers pulled from the ocean and of those men who, in a panic, jumped into lifeboats as they were being lowered, causing injury and further danger to life. Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember, comments that Gracie's book—written shortly before he died from the exposure he suffered on that night—is "invaluable for chasing down who went in what boat," and calls Gracie "an indefatigable detective."”
We all know the story of what happened to Titanic – the unsinkable ship that happened to strike an iceberg on her maiden voyage and would ultimately sink – but do you know what happened to many of the actual people on board the ship? What they were doing when it struck the iceberg, how they got off (or didn’t), how they were saved? This account by Colonel Archibald Gracie, a passenger on the ship, gives us a look into the details in ways that you don’t get in other accounts.

Colonel Gracie was not just a passive participant in the disaster and, being a man, was not one of those put into the lifeboats. He was one of the first few passengers to know that the ship had struck the iceberg and he put a lot of energy into helping the crew load and deploy the lifeboats. He survived by jumping into the water and clinging to the top of an overturned, unsuccessfully deployed, lifeboat until they were ultimately rescued by the Carapathia. Colonel Gracie succumbed to ailments sustained from exposure to the cold ocean water 8 months following the rescue – so a lot of work was put in by him in those short months to get this story complete.

This book is split into two parts – the first portion is the survivor story. Gracie recounts what he went through from the time he boarded the boat, through the disaster itself, survival in the cold water, and the rescue. The descriptions were very vivid and you got insider details that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. He mentions people he interacted with – and not just the big names – he discusses members of Titanic’s crew, from his gym instructor to the porter who was helping him pack. Some of these people have not been commemorated anywhere else.

The second part focused on what happened to each individual lifeboat – from the loading of the boat, who was on it, and what they did once they were lowered right up to when the boat was rescued. Each account was filled with quotes from the American and British inquiries into the disaster. You get firsthand accounts from Titanic crew members as well as respected passengers. You also get some newspaper accounts and excerpts from private letters. While this section was chock full of information and details it was much more dry that the first section, which read like a disaster movie. I appreciated the information but it required more breaks in my reading and concentration. This could have been improved by tying the accounts of the lifeboats together with some narrative – not just point by point.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book for me was that it was written so close to the disaster itself – within the same year – that the only information they had about the accident was firsthand accounts. Some of the information he relates we know happened differently based on the exploration of the wreck and investigation with technology that didn’t exist at that time. The two areas where this was most blatant was with the analysis of did the boilers explode and did the boat split into two parts. Most people at that time believed that the boilers did explode and the boat did not split into two parts. We now know that the ship did indeed split in two. It was interesting to see how knowledge differs with time.

Overall this was a very informative read and is a must for anyone who is interested in the disaster and really wants to read a well researched firsthand account. Just keep in mind when it was written while you read.

★★★★☆
 
There isn’t too much to say about the narration of this one. The narrator wasn’t required to voice any characters other than that of the narrator. He kept the narrative of the survivor’s story interesting, while the second portion sounded like listening to an encyclopedia – I’m not sure any different narration would have improved this section.
 
Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).






Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

7 comments:

  1. This sounds like an interesting read! I'll have to check it out; thanks!

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  2. Wow -- sounds like an intense read! I'm not a huge Titanic person but now and then, I love firsthand accounts of historical events -- I'll keep this one in mind.

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  3. Siobian - If you are interested in what happened on the Titanic it is a worthwhile read!

    Audra - it was a little heavy with all of the descriptions but the first portion (the narrative) read very quickly , like an adventure story. It was actually much better than I expected!

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  4. I would find this book most interesting. Much has been written about the Titanic, but most is speculation or recently found information. To hear in detail from someone who was there would give a different view and a better feel for what it was really like.

    thank you for the review.

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  5. What an interesting find. I would never think to look for something this. Thanks Heather :)

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  6. LibraryPat - it really did a lot to make the story more real and personal.

    Jenny - I wasn't particularly looking for this book, but rather stumbles upon it on my library's website. Otherwise I never would have known about it.

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  7. Those are the best kinds of reads...the ones that sit on shelf and say"Psst, over here." Cool!

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Thanks for leaving your comments! I love reading them and try to reply to all!