Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy and the End of the Edwardian Age

Written by Greg King Penny Wilson
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

In May of 1915, World War I raged in Europe. The German Ambassador to the U.S. put a warning in a New York newspaper for travelers to stay off the British luxury liner, Lusitania, as she would be sailing into German-patrolled waters near Ireland, and Germany was at war with Great Britain. Cunard, who owned the liner, disregarded the warning, saying the ship was protected by the British Admiralty. Lusitania, under a new captain, embarked on her dangerous voyage. The majority of her richer passengers – including a Vanderbilt – also disregarded the warning, and dined and danced across the Atlantic in the liner’s ornate chambers.

The authors concentrate on the first- and second-class passengers, with detailed biographies, because specifics on the third class were barely documented. Descriptions of the ship’s interior are intricate, and conversations written by survivors are included. The final fate of the liner, when she met a German U-boat, is told in gripping, heart-wrenching detail. The Admiralty had provided no escort, the captain was incompetent, and the lifeboats were in shabby condition. Lusitania, always overshadowed in focus by the Titanic, which sank three years earlier, deserves a significant place in history.