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Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake

Repeat author

Erik Larson is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include The Demon of Unrest and The Devil in the White City and The Splendid and the Vile.

by Erik Larson

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Quick take

Experience the drama and dread as the ship heads towards its destined encounter with German submarine U-20.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_War



On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship - the fastest then in service - could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small - hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

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Why I love it

An author needs a special kind of talent to be able to depict historical events in a way that is both factual and captivating. In this regard, Erik Larson is one of the best. The tragic last voyage of transatlantic luxury liner Lusitania, bound from New York City to Liverpool is one of many terrible tragedies of World War I. Reads experience the drama and dread as the ship heads towards its destined encounter with German submarine U-20. Anyone with an interest in the War, naval- or maritime history, will enjoy this meticulously researched work. This is an epic story that reads like a novel and delivers a truly satisfying reading experience.

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Member ratings (1,077)

  • Danielle G.

    Fort Moore, GA

    It’s non fiction but truly is written like fiction. Don’t let the size of the book scare you away. The back chunk is just notes. There are some really comical parts, interesting parts, and sad parts.

  • Frida D.

    Newton, TX

    Exceptional journey through pre-WWI history and transatlantic sea voyage. The personal details, the sense of impending woe, the urgency of time and multiple ‘characters’ relay a gripping true tale.

  • Darcy C.

    Lancaster, OH

    It is sooooo interesting and even though i knew the ultimate endong, i caught myself feeling the uptick of suspense. It makes this history come to life. Larson cannot write enough fir me! Loooove it!!


    Marina, CA

    He writes this as if it was fiction, so many details!! he paints the picture so you feel like you see everything, from all sides of history. Tragic event of the past, felt deeply in present here.

  • Francesca P.

    Allston, MA

    My god this is brilliant. Expertly cited, intimate in detail, and spectacularly paced. Passes from US to British to German pov. Reads like a novel, foreboding like a countdown to disaster. Loved it!

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