Did you know President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, is buried just up the road, in Rome, and that his second wife, Edith, was the first woman in Washington, D.C., to obtain a driver’s license? Or that the onyx has a gemological sibling called the sardonyx?
Or that the German U-boat captain who sank the RMS Lusitania was known among his men as a warm, fun-loving guy who kept puppies on board his submarine?
As with his previous works, the newest best-seller by acclaimed author Erik Larson, “Dead Wake,” imparts not only a riveting account of a momentous chapter in time, but also a host of other fascinating tidbits.
“I love those little details,” Larson said during an interview. “I love the bizarre little bits and pieces of history. There’s a certain class of item that delights me in some way and I resolve, no matter what, this thing is going in the book.”
Larson will read from, discuss and sign “Dead Wake” at an event beginning at 7 p.m. April 2 at SCADshow, 173 14th St. N.E., Atlanta.
Admission to the event, presented by the AJC-Decatur Book Festival 365|DBF, is $30 and includes one book. (A pair of tickets for couples is $35 and also includes one book.) Tickets are available at A Cappella Books, 208 Haralson Ave. N.E., Atlanta, or online at brownpapertickets.com/event/1202551. Tickets will be available at the door if any are available at event time.
The term “dead wake” refers to the ominous track on the water’s surface — “a long, pale scar,” Larson writes — that a torpedo makes when barreling toward its mark. For some of the passengers aboard the luxury liner Lusitania in May 1915, it may have been one of their final sights. Nearly 1,200 people died, including more than 120 Americans. Just about two years later, America entered World War I.
While the broad strokes of the maritime disaster are known to anyone with the most rudimentary grasp of world history, Larson’s work is a treasure chest brimming with facts you almost certainly didn’t know. He spent about two years researching and about two more writing the masterfully constructed nonfiction tale, weaving in romance and unearthing wartime secrets.
As with previous works including “The Devil in the White City,” “In the Garden of Beasts” and “Thunderstruck,” Larson excavated a trove of telling facts for “Dead Wake” that evoke the time period and tell a compelling story about people who happened to be standing in a key hallway of history.
“The Lusitania had been on my mind. Titanic’s been done to death, so that’s not an option,” Larson said, discussing the genesis of the idea for the book. “I started getting more and more interested and thought, the human drama of the sinking itself has sort of been given short shrift.”
Fans of “Thunderstruck” may recall a famous medium known as Mrs. Piper; her daughter was among those holding tickets to the Lusitania’s final crossing. Did her spectral powers intervene to keep the girl safe?
Another ticket holder was Vanderbilt heir Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who’d booked a trip on the Titanic and then changed plans at the last minute. Would he be so lucky a second time? “Dead Wake” will hold your attention firmly as you seek to find out.