A vivid reconstruction of the famed ocean liner’s demise and its history-altering consequences.
The Cunard liner Lusitania was a veritable floating city, capable of carrying thousands of passengers who, on a typical crossing from Liverpool to New York, consumed “40,000 eggs, 4,000 pounds of fresh fish, two tons of bacon and ham, 4,000 pounds of coffee, 1,000 pineapples, 500 pounds of grapes, 1,000 lemons, 25,000 pounds of meat, nearly 3,000 gallons of milk, over 500 gallons of cream, and 30,000 loaves of bread.” Telling details such as these are the stuff in which popular historian Preston (The Boxer Rebellion, 2000, etc.) trades. She is equally devoted to small touches when it comes to writing about major players in the Lusitania’s unfortunate end; her brief portrait of the petulant but gentlemanly Kaiser Wilhelm, for instance, is well worth the price of admission and does much to illuminate German conduct in WWI. Though standard histories often use the sinking of the Lusitania as a quick way to explain how the US came to shed its neutrality and enter the war on the side of the Allies, it was no sneak attack; as Preston writes, the German embassy in New York issued written warning to all passengers that the vessel was subject to sinking, inasmuch as the Royal Navy had pressed it into reserve service as a troop and materiel-transport vessel. On its ill-fated final voyage, the Lusitania was in fact carrying armaments along with other contraband, though Preston reckons that it would have been more civilized for the Germans to board and evacuate the ship before sinking it. Instead, nearly 1,200 civilians died as a result of the German attack. Its aftermath ultimately changed the outcome of the war for reasons that Preston does a characteristically fine job of explaining.
Top-drawer military history, engagingly told.