The Titanic Disaster Hearings: the Official Transcripts of the 1912 US Senate Investigation

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9780671025533: The Titanic Disaster Hearings: the Official Transcripts of the 1912 US Senate Investigation
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Merely a day after Titanic survivors arrived in port in New York City, a United States Senate committee began an investigation into the wreck of the great "unsinkable" ship. For the first time in book form, here is the dramatic testimony of crew and passengers from all walks of life, as they recall the sights and sounds of the night of April 14, 1912.

From the manners of the day to the conduct fo those boarding the lifeboats, from acts of kindness to palpable greed, here is an unforgettable portrait of human nature in the face of the Titanic tragedy, in the words of the men and women who survived....J. Bruce Ismay, British officer of the White Star Line, who hopped into a lifeboat to save himself and never looked back to see her go down....Second officer Charles Lightoller's harrowing plunge as the sinking ship's force of suction pulled him under water....On-duty lookout Frederick Fleet's admission that the iceberg might have been avoided if the crew had been equipped with binoculars....Passenger Daisy Minahan, who recalled the refusal of an officer in her lifeboat to aid those adrift in the frigid waters...and many more witnesses to one of the most shattering events of our century. Illustrated with historical photographs, The Titanic Disaster Hearings is a vital piece of the puzzle that has sparked worldwide fascination.

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Review:

When Tom Kuntz, the "Word for Word" section editor of the New York Times, started researching a column on the Senate hearings about the Titanic disaster, he discovered that this supposedly public information was tough for the public to come by--it was stuck away in archives on cumbersome microfiche. The Times just hates anything that comes between people and information--just look at its historic efforts to publicize the government's Vietnam policy in the recent book The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case. So Kuntz intelligently excerpted and published, for the first time ever, these transcripts, noting without fear or favor his own paper's participation in the then-common practice of checkbook journalism and presenting hundreds of pages of gripping eyewitness testimony. The Titanic Disaster Hearings also includes a helpful, if rather brief, index to the testimony, so you can look up "Lookout men, glasses for" and turn to the page with this heartbreaking discussion of the owners' inexplicable refusal to give the lookouts binoculars:

SENATOR SMITH: Suppose you had had [binoculars], could you have seen this black object [the iceberg] a greater distance?

MR. FLEET [a Titanic lookout]: We could have seen it a bit sooner.

SENATOR SMITH: How much sooner?

MR. FLEET: Well, enough to get out of the way...

"Here the world learned of Isidor and Ida Straus's decision to die together rather than separate under the 'women and children first' evacuation tradition," writes Kuntz. "Archibald Gracie vividly described people swarming up the Titanic's rear decks as the ship plunged deeper into the sea." One does not envy the wireless operators explaining how their state-of-the-art system managed to screw up so badly, nor Titanic officer Pitman, who claimed his passengers and crewmen refused his order to row back to pick up screaming survivors in their boat, which had room for 20 more people, because they feared those in the water would swamp them:

SENATOR SMITH: How many of these cries were there? Was it a chorus, or was it--

MR. PITMAN: I would rather you did not speak about that.

SENATOR SMITH: I would like to know how you were impressed by it.

MR. PITMAN: Well, I can not very well describe it. I would rather you would not speak of it.

SENATOR SMITH: I realize that it is not a pleasant theme, and yet I would like to know whether these cries were general and in chorus, or desultory and occasional?

MR. PITMAN: There was a continual moan for about an hour.

There are 32 useful pictures in the book, but its raison d'être is words, which Kuntz has compiled and arranged in an addictively readable fashion.

From AudioFile:

The fabulous remake of the film Titanic did more than launch Leonardo DiCaprio's movie career. An amazing number of audiobooks have been released on this topic, representing a wide range of perspectives. The Titanic Disaster Hearings makes for compelling listening and demonstrates the range of emotion that results when disaster strikes a large and varied body of people; sound effects add further depth to the production. The twenty-member star-studded cast gives the listener a feeling of history and a sense of what the 1912 Senate hearings were like. It's also intriguing to hear firsthand the vocabulary and manners practiced early in this century. Happily, those who aren't moviegoers may learn more about the history of the Titanic by listening to this audio presentation. S.G.B. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine

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