A Night to Remember


We have been going through a nostalgic wave of Titanic proportions with the 100 year anniversary this month of the sinking of the “unsinkable” ship.  That being the case, I felt the Book Review column may as well follow on, and Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember (ISBN 978-0-141-39969-0, 1956 but reprinted 2012, Penguin Books) the classic best selling account of the sinking of the Titanic beckoned from the local Bookazine shelves.

It is a very easy book to read.  Walter Lord’s prose in not one full of flowery adjectival phrases, no judgments, no hyperbole, but just well written from his interviews with survivors.  The events leading up to and the eventual sinking itself do not need dramatic staccato phraseology to convey what happened.  The real-life stories tell it all without embellishment.  The irony of the second class passengers having a choir practice on the sinking Sunday night, which ended with the hymn “For those in peril on the sea,” could not have been made up.  Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were not needed.

There are two sets of photographic plates, with even one photograph of the iceberg which holed the Titanic, leading to its sinking.  The others show the opulence of that class of liner.

At the back of the book is the complete passenger list, with those who survived in italics.  Those were very different days.  Amongst those who perished were Colonel J.J. Astor and Manservant, but Lady J.J. Astor and Maid were saved.  Very few people today would be traveling with a manservant and a maid!

The rescue of the survivors and the handling of the (mis) information by the media of the day ranged from banner headlines to say everyone saved and the Titanic being towed to port to total loss and then the survivors began embellishing their experiences, as well they might.

One observation that one cannot help making is the stoicism of the passengers aboard the ill-fated Titanic.  Those that were left without lifeboats were not storming the davits or abusing the crew.  Walter Lord wrote, “Down in the engine room no one even thought of getting away.  Men struggled desperately to keep the steam up, the light lit, the pumps going.”  Compare that with today and the pandemonium that can ensue even at a football match.  The “Me” generation seems to have forgotten how to keep emotions under control.  Or perhaps modern culture thinks self-control unnecessary and works on the “Pull the ladder in Jack, I’m aboard.”  Mention is made of the Costa Concordia which foundered on January 13 of this year.  Comparisons between the Costa Concordia’s captain and Captain Smith of the Titanic are odious.

At B. 385 this is a bargain.  It was meticulously researched by the original author Walter Lord, who unfortunately died in 2002, and we have now a foreword by Julian Fellowes and an introduction by Brian Lavery.  If you have more than just a passing interest in the events of that fateful night, you will enjoy this book.  The New York Times reported this book as “Stunning, incomparably the best on its subject.”  I concur.