REVIEW: Titanic: ‘Iceberg Ahead’ The Story of the Disaster By Some of those Who Were There (2001)

A book by by James W Bancroft

Book Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

It’s been a long while since I read a book on the Titanic, as aside from a ton of whackadoo conspiracy stuff I was always of the mind that everything that could have been said had been said. Perhaps ignoring looking more into the material was a mistake because I quite enjoyed reading this book. I’m not surprised as I absolutely loved being able to visit a local museum exhibition around a decade or so ago that used props from the James Cameron film show what the ship was like, seeing that full-sized replicas were built (I believe the full museum is in Branson, Missouri now, this was a traveling thing). The reason I enjoyed it were the person stories, and the points of view from the handful of survivors.

That’s basically what this book is, it tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic, from early bad omens all the way up to the aftermath, but its sold through personal correspondence and accounts of the very people that were on the ship, organized in a linear way so that every bit of the trip is explained. Its an interesting way to piece a book like this together, and I appreciate the author doing it this way vs telling us the accepted “this is what happened” version of the story. It was particularly heartbreaking to read letters basically saying “The boats 100% unsinkable, I’ve never felt more safe in my life!” mailed from the last port before the boat went towards its water grave in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

I particularly enjoyed a section about a man who was apparently so drunk that he somehow survived the sinking by wandering out onto the ship as it was listing to the side and swam around until the Carpathia showed up. In actuality it was less ridiculous as he hung halfway onto a lifeboat, held by a friend, but the descriptions make it sound like Mr. Magoo obliviously avoiding certain doom. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the conspiracies that yellow newspapers started printing after the disaster – like ones involving Captain Smith sightings. to me, this shows that nothing ever changes and gullible people are eternal.

The book is a fairly quick read and is split into two halves. Part one is the chronology of the entire disaster, and the second half are short biographies of the people involved alive or dead. Throughout the “main” bit of the book names sometimes have asterisks next to them, meaning that the author has included historical information to look at. There are also photographs and references in the back. All-in-all its well researched and well put together.

My only gripe with this book is that information is sometimes duplicated when jumping between accounts, its somewhat jarring when it happens and made me think that I was tired and reading the same line multiple times. Its a small gripe, and I understand why it happened, but I wonder if that could have been addressed.

While I’m not going to jump headlong into Titanic Mania like some did a while back (The anniversary especially) I think I have a new appreciation or understanding for what these unfortunate folks went through. It makes me want to go and see that big museum down in Branson one of these days, just to see what else I can learn.

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