In the prologue to The Titanic: Disaster of the Century, famous wreck diver John Chatterton mentions Wyn Craig Wade’s book had been out of print for 30 years and Chatterton assumed that was a result of the quality of the writing and story told within its pages.
As Chatterton and I both learned, this is a remarkable telling of the most notable maritime disaster of all time.
The Titanic doesn’t leave any room for conjecture, its telling is based strictly on an immediate investigation into the wreck by a special committee of the United States Congress.
Coincidentally, the two key figures in the book share a surname, William Alden Smith (D.-Mich.) was the congressman who convened the investigation of late Captain E.J. Smith’s decision to bring the “unsinkable” liner through an ice field with more boilers lit than ever before.
Ultimately, William Alden Smith can’t draw many conclusions about what E.J. Smith was thinking the night of the wreck, but what emerges from Wade’s book is there sheer sense of terror that must have been felt by those aboard the giant liner in its final minutes. In addition, the inadequacy of the lifeboats and the unpreparedness of the crew largely surfaced due to the report and play a pivotal role in the book.
Though he was portrayed as a fool in England, William Alden Smith’s investigation and subsequent report proved to be one of the most valuable tools in understanding the disaster and rethinking the way liners were equipped for transatlantic travel. Meanwhile, E.J. Smith is left unredeemed in the report, a fool-hearty sailor at best, guilty of manslaughter 1,500 times over at worst.
Further, in some of the better prose I’ve seen in a work of non-fiction, Wade ponders what the wreck of the Titanic says about society at large, the hubris behind the birth of the vessel and the swift, massive after effects of the disaster of the century.
Different from any other book I’ve read about the disaster, The Titanic: Disaster of the Century is a great entry point into discovering truths about the wreck based on the most accurate portrayal of disaster that we have.