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Titanic: The Intrigue Will Live on
Eyewitness Guides: Titanic - Simon Adams
Member Name: CarolineR-D
Eyewitness Guides: Titanic - Simon Adams
Advantages: Very interesting, presents the information in a very readable way
A Close up View of History
The passenger liner, RMS Titanic, sunk on its maiden voyage en route to New York in the early hours of 15th April 1912 after hitting an iceberg. 1,517 people lost their lives. Almost a century on from the tragedy, the ship's grim fate continues to be a source of fascination to many.
My family have always been interested in the Titanic so when I found this book in my local library I thought it would be useful for us all to refer to. It was in the children's section but it struck me as something an adult would appreciate too, because it provided such a lot of information. However, the way the information is presented makes this book particularly suitable for children to use in project work. The subject matter is presented chronologically, beginning with some historical background about the development of steamships. It tells the Titanic's story from its construction in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, to its horrific end in the icy sea. It then looks at the aftermath, the lessons that were learned and the search and discovery of the wreck. Each 2-page spread covers a particular theme and is packed full of information, which is presented in written and pictorial form. This format makes it easy to access and understand and means that all the key information is covered in just 59 pages. The use of visually stimulating spreads makes it less heavy and overwhelming for younger readers to tackle what is a vast subject. The pictorial information includes detailed drawings of the ship and contemporary photographs of the ship, crew and passengers, along with some amazing pictures of the wreck on the floor of the ocean. What I particularly appreciated, however, were the photographs of individual objects of significance, such as first class bath taps recovered from the wreck, a pack of White Star Line playing cards, a pocket watch stopped at 2.16 (the ship sank 4 minutes later), a battered leather hold-all and a first class dinner plate. I almost felt as if I could pick these objects up off the page and examine them. It was like a museum within a book and really added to the atmosphere.
Class Snobbery and Sexism on the High Seas
The travel conditions of first-class, second-class and third-class passengers are described one after the other in three separate spreads, which I found useful as it made it easier to contrast the experiences of the different social groups. The contrasts are stark! The a la carte menu for the last luncheon served to first class passengers on board offers enough food to sink the ship without the need for an iceberg! Pictures leave us in no doubt about the spacious luxury enjoyed by the wealthiest passengers. I appreciate the way the author has labelled the pictures to point out little bits of detail such as the first class dining tables being decorated with fresh flowers and fruit baskets and the French Empire style furniture in the first class staterooms, which can be compared to the plain, slatted benches in the public rooms for steerage passengers. This makes the reader feel as if they are indeed an 'eyewitness', to the scene, wandering around the ship and taking in its contrasting features. I love the inclusion of quotations too and extracts from letters. We can contrast the frivolous excitement of first class passenger, Lady Duff Gordon, describing her cabin - "my pretty little cabin with its electric heater and pink curtains delighted me" - with the matter of fact words of steerage passenger, Millvina Dean - "we were going to Kansas, my father was going to buy a tobacconist's shop." I was impressed by the way the author juxtaposes a photo of the stunning Grand Staircase, which the rich passengers would have swept down on their way to dinner, with a photo of plasterers and decorators at work, providing the reader with another example of how working people toiled to provide opulence for the privileged classes to enjoy. In addition to telling us about the crew and the more prominent passengers on board, we learn about the army of people working behind the scenes - kitchen workers, stokers, firemen, luggage loaders, mailroom staff etc. I was interested to learn that out of a crew of 899 there were just 18 stewardesses. Superstitions about women at sea and strong social attitudes meant there were few employment prospects for women on ships like this. Ironically, the Titanic disaster showed sexism working both ways. The rule that 'women and children' would be first to the lifeboats meant that all but one of the stewardesses survived. Later in the book there is a useful table showing the numbers of people who died and those who survived, which allows the reader to see the variations not just between the classes but between the sexes.
Children can learn a lot about science and technology from this book. The book provides a lot of information about icebergs, including how they are formed and where they are found, with a useful diagram to show just how much of the ice is below the surface of the water. A photograph of the ship's wireless room is clearly labelled to show Morse code keys and other equipment that must have seemed quite high-tech at the time. Wireless communication on board ship was still in its infancy at the time of the Titanic and was certainly not recognised as a method of signalling an emergency. However, the human stories are what make this such an intriguing and emotive read, such as junior wireless operator, Jack Phillips, sending the first SOS signal ever from a ship in distress after being told - "it's the new call, and it might be your last chance to send it."
Victims, Survivors and Sinister Omens
We read about the experiences of many of those on board - not just the famous ones who are recognisable from the movies, such as the 'unsinkable' Molly Brown and the spirited Countess of Rothes, who took their turn at the oars, and the millionaire, Benjamin Guggenheim who, along with his valet, dressed in an evening suit and declared - "we're dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen", but also those whose names meant little to me. These include Roman Catholic Priest, Father Thomas Byles, who heard confessions as the ship sank and 12 year old Ruth Becker, a second-class passenger who found herself separated from her mother and siblings but showed great bravery aboard the lifeboat, comforting a distraught German mother who had been separated from her child. (Mercifully both Ruth and the German lady were later reunited with their families.)
A section of the book that I particularly enjoyed reading was about the many omens and predictions of doom that occurred before the tragedy, not least the reference to a novel written in 1898 by Morgan Robertson, entitled Futility or The Wreck of the Titan. Eerily, the novel's plot mirrors the Titanic disaster, telling of a ship attempting to cross the Atlantic in record time, striking an iceberg and sinking with great loss of life.
Raising the Wreck, Raising Controversy
I am more interested in the story of the fateful voyage than the discovery of the wreck, but the book provides a thorough explanation of how the wreck was eventually found and the complexity of the task is made clear, given that the wreck lies in 12,470 feet of dark, icy cold water. The book explains what technology was used to bring objects up from the seabed, many of which appear in photographs. I was intrigued to learn that some of the many white serving dishes on the ship were discovered, unbroken on the ocean floor, stacked in the same neat rows they had been in originally! The scientific methods used to conserve and restore recovered artefacts makes for an interesting read and the book shows how science has been able to separate fact from myth, giving us a better understanding of what really happened to the ship. However, the author makes it clear that not everyone is in favour of recovering objects from the site of the wreck and some feel that it is disrespectful. Should the 'grave' be left in peace rather than pilfered? Or should the wreck be preserved for the benefit of all those who remain enthralled by this particular part of history, to ensure that it is never forgotten? This thought-provoking question will encourage the reader to look at the debate from different angles.
Would I recommend this book?
Without a doubt, I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the Titanic, whether an adult or a child. It provides a superb overview of the subject and it draws you in, stimulating your imagination and making you feel as if you have had a guided tour of the ship. I found it an absorbing read. The book can be purchased from Amazon sellers from £9.99 for a hardback copy.
Summary: A fascinating introduction to The Titanic
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