The Other Side of the Night

Image from navyhistory.org

I don’t know what it was the triggered my history nerd lately about shipwrecks, but something did. I’ve read a lot about the RMS Titanic, and I’ve seen a lot of documentaries. I don’t know what it is that catches my mind about shipwrecks, but something does.

So I decided I wanted to learn more about the Carpathia, the ship that single-handedly rescued all the survivors of the RMS Titanic. I had known that she did, but I didn’t know the details. I had known about the Californian, but again very few details. So I found this book The Other Side of the Night by Daniel Allen Butler, who has written at least one other Titanic book (which I may pick up, because Titanic). (And I just discovered that he wrote a book on Rommel, so…there’s my next few weeks)

It’s excellently written. As a historian myself (note: I call myself that because that’s what my degree is in, but I do not have a graduate degree), I’m always a little leery of historical books that don’t make use of copious citations, but he had several appendices and his work previously was vetted by the person who was (until his death) considered the grand marshal of Titanic researchers, Walter Lord (author of A Night To Remember). Butler is a historical writer who is the type of author I wish my undergrad teachers would use. He’s so very far from dry, though I wouldn’t call him funny (if only because disasters aren’t inherently funny).

Butler gives us the history of the Carpathia (Cunard Line) and the Californian (Leyland Line), two ships massively smaller than the Titanic and what you might call work horses. While comfortable, you didn’t take them for the glamour like you would the Titanic, Olympic or later on the SS United States and Andrea Doria. They were more intimate vessels, and also used mainly for hauling cargo.

He gives us good backgrounds on the captains of the vessels, Arthur Rostron (Carpathia) and Stanley Lord (Californian). He laid out what the night was like for those ships and men, as well as including some bits of the Titanic as well because obviously those ships would not be well known without her. There’s a very good case in the book for Stanley Lord being a very self-serving man and a terrible captain. If he had the guts to respond to the Titanic’s distress flares (which the Californian saw), then more lives may have been saved that night. Not all of them, as there still weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, but more.

If you’re looking for something that might be different than your usual fare. If you’re looking for a bit of history to explore. If you’ve always been fascinated by the Titanic (like me), then I can’t recommend this book enough. Very well written, very well thought out. Rating: A.

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