Written by noted non-fiction author Erik Larson, this is a densely researched recounting of the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger liner, during World War I. Several American citizens were among the passengers. In 1915, when this incident occurred, the United States was a neutral party in this war between European nations. Many Americans were isolationists, including then President Woodrow Wilson. Great Britain grew increasingly frustrated and hoped to encourage our country to join their side.
The naval ships of Great Britain and France were increasingly under attack by German U-boat submarines. Officials mistakenly believed that the enemy would not attack passenger ships, but the German Navy was becoming more aggressive.
Larson presents a highly descriptive narrative about the days leading up to the Lusitania’s sinking; including facts about her passengers and ship operations, operations of U-boat 20, and political events occurring in Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. All information was garnered from original documents and correspondence. The reader also learns about Great Britain’s secret “Room 40”, a government department tasked with translating encrypted German messages. This might mean that Britain knew about a possible attack against the Lusitania and did nothing to prevent it, hoping that it would stir the US to declare war against Germany.
The resulting tragedy, killing more than one third of the passengers and crew, did not cause the United States to join the war at this time. This didn’t occur until 1917.