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GHOSTS OF THE TITANIC by Charles Pellegrino

GHOSTS OF THE TITANIC

An Archaeological Odyssey

By Charles Pellegrino

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-688-13955-8
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A haphazard eulogy to the big boat that refuses to release her grip on the popular imagination.

Following a turgid foreword by Titanic director James Cameron (in which the nastiest stereotypes of Hollywood illiteracy receive ample confirmation), Pellegrino (Return to Sodom and Gomorrah, 1994, etc.) launches into his eclectic collection of tales from the Titanic. In this grand hodgepodge, the reader meets such intriguing characters as the ship's baker (who survived by sheer force of will), lookout Frederick Fleet (who bore the brunt of the blame for the accident), and undocumented passenger Howard Irwin (who disappeared without a trace). Such stories are told to mixed effect: when Pellegrino narrates simply and subtly, he sketches a thumbnail portrait of a person alive with minute detail. On the other hand, his authorial voice at times intrudes with astounding banalities ("I know all about ghosts") and stilted dramatizations ("Tell your mother that I loved her dearly and still do"). The re-creations of the Titanic's final moments are linked to scientific discussions of the archaeological processes of investigating her. Pellegrino examines the immense difficulties of such a study in loving detail (and in accessible and exciting prose). For example, his analysis of the rusticles (a bacterial species that combines itself symbiotically with worms) is bizarrely fascinating; such scientific exuberance, however, is less enjoyable when directed to computing the ratio of survival between dust mites and cockroaches. In an afterword and postscript, Pellegrino considers the fates of the crew and their passengers, lists the expeditions that have studied the ship's wreckage, and ponders the dangers of technological hubris.

Suffering from the same stilted emotionalism that plagued Cameron's movie, Pellegrino's study nevertheless provides gripping reading due to the inherent fascination of the ship and her watery grave.