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Ebook Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic by Daniel Allen Butler read! Book Title: Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic
The size of the: 970 KB
Edition: Da Capo Press
Date of issue: March 1st 2009
ISBN: 0786731036
The author of the book: Daniel Allen Butler
Language: English
Format files: PDF
ISBN 13: 9780786731039

Read full description of the books Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic:

A lot of words have been expended on the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. So it takes a certain amount of brashness to subtitle your book, “the Full Story,” implying as it does the notion that all the facts have been hidden till now.

After finishing Daniel Allen Butler’s Unsinkable, though, I realized that his book serves an important function. Yes, there are hundreds of Titanic books. Many of the most recent publications (within the past decade) seem to come in two types: either slapped together to capitalize on James Cameron’s film, thus appealing to the masses; or devoted to very detailed aspects of the disaster, thus appealing to true Titanic enthusiasts.

The best standard work, Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember, was published in 1955. Other narratives, including books by Michael Davie and Wyn Craig Wade, also share more-distant publication dates. In Titanic-lore, date of publication looms large; books published before Bob Ballard’s 1985 discovery of the wreck are at a distinct disadvantage.

Butler’s Unsinkable was written with the stated intent to both update the story (taking into account things we’ve learned from going to the bottom of the ocean) and to provide a narrative shorn of “latter-day moralizing, social leveling, mythmaking, or finger pointing.” In other words, Butler intended a post-revisionist take on the Titanic legend. No Titanic as a cross-section of the Victorian-era metaphors here!

Of course, anybody who says he isn’t revisionist is, in fact, a revisionist. Butler’s no different. He’s just revising away from the mean. By the end of the book, you can see him (as Titanic enthusiasts are known to do…to their therapists) grinding various axes, belaboring certain points, and generally seeing in Titanic what he wants to see (it is, when all is said and done, one of history’s great Rorschach tests).

Still, it’s pretty good. If it’s not a classic, it is definitely one of the better overall all Titanic books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a few.

To be sure, it is thorough. It begins with a brief history of the White Star Line, and concludes with that company’s decision to build three great ships. This introductory section, usually dealt with perfunctorily if at all, nicely sets up the context in which Titanic was created. Contrary to certain myths, the Titanic was not attempting to break any speed records in crossing the Atlantic. Indeed, the Blue Riband was safely in the hands of the Cunard Line’s smaller, faster ships. The White Star Line intentionally sacrificed speed for size and luxury (of course, the luxury in the White Star ship’s was a loss-leader; the real profit margins came from steerage).

The telling of the sinking is fairly conventional and conservative. Butler does not attempt to alter the consensus opinion with regards to how the Titanic struck the iceberg, what orders First Officer Murdoch gave on the bridge (to avoid the iceberg), and whether or not the ship was structurally sound (Butler blithely dismisses the notion that the White Star Line used sub-standard steel in Titanic’s construction).

Following the sinking, there is an entire chapter devoted to the Leland Line cargo ship Californian, which was stopped some 10-20 miles from Titanic on the night of the disaster, and failed to come to her aid. There are also sections detailing the American and British Inquiries into the sinking, as well as a brief chapter surveying the various expeditions to the shipwreck, grave-robbing and otherwise.

Butler’s writing style is eminently readable. His prose isn’t as breathless or propulsive as Walter Lord’s, but then again, he isn’t trying to outdo the master. To the contrary, when describing Titanic’s final moments, Butler simply quotes an excerpt from A Night to Remember, acknowledging an inability to surpass Lord’s inimitable portrait.

Even though I’ve read a great deal on the Titanic, I found a lot of new factoids, some of them quite interesting. For instance, Butler notes that the gates erected between first and third class, which seemed to trap the steerage passengers in a British-devised, class-structured cage, were actually mandated by U.S. immigration law, in order to stop the spread of communicable diseases (because you never knew where those dirty Italians had been!). I was also gruesomely fascinated by Butler’s contention that water-borne survivors were killed by debris popping to the surface, after the ship had gone under.

My favorite parts of Unsinkable were in Butler’s handling of the Californian and the U.S. Inquiry.

As to the Californian, and her dour captain, Stanley Lord, Butler is unforgiving. He has no time for Lord’s defenders (contrarians, in every sense of the word, fighting for a man long dead, who wouldn’t have wanted their help anyway) who try to use the earth’s curvature and mysterious Japanese whaling ships as excuses for Lord’s failure to act on the night of April 14-15. Butler cuts through all the crap and focuses, rightly, on the undisputed, eyewitness testimony of the Californian’s crew that they saw what appeared to be a passenger liner firing off rockets. Just coincidentally, the Titanic was nearby, firing off rockets. Butler justly ridicules the notion that the men on the Californian saw anything other than Titanic sinking by the head. Whether or not they could have gotten through an ice field in time, is irrelevant. The fact is, Lord didn't even try. (The captain of the eventual rescue ship, Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia, greatly benefited from Lord’s indifference. He became one of the lasting heroes of the tragedy, simply by dint of competence and normal human compassion).

With regards to the U.S. Inquiry, Butler is unfailingly positive. Chaired by Senator William Alden Smith, of Michigan, the U.S. Inquiry has long been mocked, especially by the haughty British across the Atlantic (their motto: We may lose our empire, our colonies, and our ships, but we shall never lose our sarcastic and condescending demeanor). To be sure, Smith asked a lot of questions that sound ridiculous, naïve, or ignorant. Some of these queries include: “what is ice made of?” (ice); “can you survive in a watertight compartment?” (uh, no); and “did the ship sink by the bow or the head?” (are you serious?).

However, as Butler points out, these kinds of questions, which seem hopelessly dumb, also tended to get to the truth of the matter. The most important witnesses were the ship’s officers; these officers (especially the dashing, pathologically dishonest Second Officer Charles Lightoller) tended to hide behind a smokescreen of nautical terms and technical jargon. Smith’s plain-English questioning eroded this verbal barrier.

More importantly, by holding the Inquiry immediately (which was also criticized by the British press), Smith got the best and most honest recollections from his witnesses. We all know that memory is malleable; it changes over time. The more a person thinks back on an event, and the more extraneous information is consumed, the more a memory is changed. Senator William Alden Smith actually did more than any single person to create the Titanic narrative, and Butler gives him due praise.

I did have a few criticisms. My chief complaint is in Unsinkable’s sourcing. There are endnotes, thankfully, and even a few annotated notes, which is my favorite kind of endnote. But there aren’t enough. Not for the number of facts that Butler crams onto each page. There were certain things he said that really caught my attention; however, those things often had no source. Worse yet, Butler has a nasty habit of citing to secondary sources. This is a huge no-no in any kind of book that wants to be taken even halfway seriously. You cannot propound a fact about what happened on the Titanic and then attempt to back that fact up by directing me to another general history, just like the one I’m reading. If you’re going to do that, you might as well cite to Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, or the Great Pumpkin.

My other criticism goes back to something I mentioned earlier: the alleged lack of revisionism. Don’t be fooled by the introduction; Butler is certainly revising the Titanic story. This is overt in his chapters on Captain Lord and Senator Smith, and more subtle in other places. For instance, Butler (the Rush Limbaugh of Titanic studies), vehemently denies the existence of any class warfare on the Titanic. Despite grossly disproportionate death tolls (60% of first class survived, as opposed to 24% of third class), he sticks to his belief that all was fair in love and doomed ocean liners. There is a strain of logic to Butler’s thinking. To be sure, steerage passengers had a farther way to travel to the Boat Deck, and once they got there (if they got there), they were not turned away on the basis of their ticket. The problem, though, is Butler’s refusal to acknowledge the crew’s utter failure in bringing steerage passengers up from below. To his mind, the most the crew can be culpable of is “benign” neglect. I’m not buying the old “we forgot about the 700 people downstairs” defense, especially not after Butler offhandedly notes that Titanic’s crew locked the Italian and French wait staff of the a la carte restaurant in their rooms! (Unfortunately, there is no citation for this quaint old chestnut of Edwardian suspicion towards the peoples of the Continent).

On the whole, Butler is quite forgiving of Titanic’s crew, to the point where one can almost imagine him in a room thinking about them, his stiff upper lip barely quivering. Certainly, on an individual level, the crew acted (at times) with incredible bravery (only 23% of the crew survived). This includes the engineers, who literally sacrificed their lives to keep the lights on until the very last moment. On the other hand, you had craven crewmembers, such as the unlucky helmsman Robert Hitchens, who spent his time in the lifeboat arguing with Molly Brown.

The numbers tell the story of an inefficient and botched rescue. With a lifeboat capacity of 1,178, Titanic’s crew managed to save 705 (or 710, according to some reports). With 2 hours and forty minutes in which to effect an evacuation, on a sea as flat as a mill pond, with a ship going down on an even keel, Titanic’s crew only managed to fill the 20 lifeboats to 59% capacity. That’s not exactly the stuff of a Kipling poem.

Of course, a fish rots from the head down. And this brings us to Captain Edward John Smith, the mysterious, disappearing commodore, who quietly oversaw a complete command breakdown aboard his stricken vessel. After Titanic’s collision, Smith went comatose. He lost the initiative. There was no attempt to ensure that the crew were at their stations; there was no attempt to systematically warn passengers of the dangers; there was no oversight over the loading and lowering of the boats; there was confusion over the lowering instructions (Second Officer Lightoller refused all men; First Officer Murdoch let men aboard, once the women had loaded); and he apparently allowed a bunch of French and Italian waiters to drown in their rooms, because of their Frenchness and their Italianness.

Part of the reason I got this book was due to Butler’s supposed critique of Captain Edward John Smith. Well, it turns out not to be much of a critique. In the final paragraph of a hastily written appendix, Butler asked a clinical psychologist to attempt to diagnose Captain Smith’s apparent breakdown. She comes up with a term called “temporary disfunctionality,” a state of mental shock. Despite Smith’s documented command failures, and despite that psychological diagnosis, Butler refuses to cast blame, insisting: “It is highly doubtful any of us could have done any better.”

You’re right! I couldn’t have done any better. Because I’m a 21st century lawyer, not an early 20th century ship’s captain. I’m pretty sure we’re held to different standards. Butler’s point isn’t really a point at all. If I were Captain Smith, I would’ve filled a lifeboat with food, brandy, and jewels; handpicked a crew of the best rowers; and made my way to Newfoundland. That’s why no one has put me in charge of an ocean liner. Hell, if I were captain, Titanic never would have sunk in the Atlantic; instead, it would have ran over every navigation buoy, struck five moored ships, collided with a whale, and I would have been arrested.

Anyway, when Butler sticks to his non-revisionist pledge, things are fine. When he starts to inject his non-opinion opinions, I got annoyed. What it comes down to is this: if you were to read only one Titanic in your life, it should still be A Night to Remember. But if you read two, you wouldn’t be hurting yourself to choose Unsinkable.

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Ebook Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic read Online! Daniel Allen Butler is a maritime and military historian, the author (through September 2011) of nine books. Some of his previous works include Unsinkable: the Full Story of RMS Titanic (1998); Distant Victory: The Battle of Jutland and the Allied Triumph in the First World War (2006); The Age of Cunard (2003); The Other Side of the Night: The Carpathia, theCalifornian, and the Night the Titanic was Lost (2009); The Burden of Guilt: How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace, Summer 1914 (2010); and Shadow of the Sultan’s Realm: the Destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (2011).

Educated at Hope College, Grand Valley State University, and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Butler served in the United States Army before becoming a full-time author. He is an internationally recognized authority on maritime subjects and a popular guest speaker, having given presentations at the National Archives in Washington, DC, the Mariners’ Museum, and in the United Kingdom. He has also been frequently included in the on-board enrichment series of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 andQueen Mary 2, as well as the ships of the Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines.

Butler is currently at work on three new projects: The Field Marshal, a biography of Erwin Rommel; The Last Field of Glory: Waterloo, 1815, a history of the Hundred Days; and But for Freedom Alone, the story of the Declaration of Arbroath.

A self-proclaimed “semi-professional beach bum,” Butler divides what little time he spends away from his writing between wandering long stretches of warm, sandy beaches, his love of woodworking, his passion for British sports cars, and his fascination with building model ships. After living and working in Los Angeles, California, for several years, Butler has recently relocated—permanently, he hopes!—to Atlantic Beach, Florida, where the beaches are better.

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