Review

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived

by Andrew Wilson

The newly-built Titanic was a vast and luxurious ship. To have the opportunity to sail on its maiden voyage must have been considered a wonderful adventure. Neither the passengers nor the crew could possibly know that the highly-anticipated initial ocean crossing on the luxury liner was doomed from the start.

"The personal stories behind the disaster, as recounted by Andrew Wilson, are no doubt what has kept so many people so fascinated with that horrific event. That the history of the tragedy has remained alive for so long is in part a testament to how strongly we are sometimes affected by dramatic human events, current or historic."

1,517 people lost their lives when the great ship hit an iceberg, suffered catastrophic damage, took on water, broke apart, and sank to the ocean floor. Because there were insufficient lifeboats and due to the fact that many that were launched were not filled anywhere near to capacity, countless lives that surely would have been saved were tragically lost. Those 705 suriviors who secured a spot in a lifeboat or who jumped off the ship as it was slipping down into the ocean --- and were later rescued by a lifeboat --- were witnesses to the horror of the screams of the dying and the sight of the great ship disappearing beneath the water. For countless passengers and crew, the sounds and sights of that night haunted them for the rest of their lives.

Eighteen-year-old Madeleine and her much older, wealthy husband, John Jacob Astor, were returning home on the Titanic after an extended honeymoon abroad. Madeleine was pregnant and did not want to be separated from John, but he convinced her to enter the lifeboat by telling her he would be along shortly. Of course, that did not happen, and within one short year Madeleine became a bride, an heiress, a widow, and a mother. She gave up the Astor fortune to marry her childhood sweetheart and bore two more sons. She seemed happy enough, but that did not last long.

Madeleine was restless and ended up divorcing her second husband before embarking upon another ocean voyage supposedly to calm her nerves. This trip also brought her endless grief. She met and was immediately attracted to an Italian prizefighter 15 years her junior who had a wife and child back home. Their attraction was immediate but flawed. Enzo was attracted to her wealth and celebrity, while Madeleine was obsessed with Enzo's youth and looks. Eventually they divorced, freeing Enzo to marry the older woman. But their marriage was a disaster from the beginning as Enzo physically abused his wife.

What a sad life Madeleine endured. If she lived during current times, her life story might have been made into a movie. For a young woman who should have led such a charmed existence, instead Madeleine found life to be extremely difficult. No matter what choices she made, they always seemed to be the wrong ones.

Jack Thayer was a 17-year old traveling with his mother and father. Young Jack refused a spot in a lifeboat --- the law of the sea was "Women and children first" --- and instead chose to jump feet first into the freezing water as the ship was sinking. He surfaced near a lifeboat, and a stoker pulled him aboard. When Jack was reunited with his mother, Marian, on the Carpathia, she was stunned that he had not seen his father. Mr. Thayer's body was never recovered. His widow dabbled in the occult in an effort to communicate with her late husband, while Jack went on to lead an exemplary life. He fought in the first World War and became a successful businessman and highly respected family man. But when his son died in the second World War and Marian passed away a few months later, Jack fell into a deep depression. He was one of the 10 Titanic survivors whose lives were ended by their own hands.

Reputations were made or lost, depending upon how the passengers who survived behaved during the ordeal. J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, was never able to overcome the stinging scandal that followed him his entire life. And Lady and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon also lived under a cloud of ill will and scorn because of their inexcusable behavior. Being a Titanic survivor gave one instant celebrity. Margaret "Molly" Brown, a first-class passenger, became well known when a movie and a musical were produced about her life. Had she not been aboard the Titanic, she just might have been any wealthy woman, totally unknown to the world.

The Titanic sailing was to be the final voyage, and a triumphant one at that, for Captain Smith before he retired. Two young boys, who spoke no English, aboard the ship were being kidnapped by their father. Were it not for the publicity surrounding the tragedy, would they ever have been reunited with their mother? So many questions linger, and most of them will remain unanswered.

Does it seem strange that the events that occurred on one single night an entire century ago still reverberate down through the years? The personal stories behind the disaster, as recounted by Andrew Wilson, are no doubt what has kept so many people so fascinated with that horrific event. That the history of the tragedy has remained alive for so long is in part a testament to how strongly we are sometimes affected by dramatic human events, current or historic.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on March 22, 2012

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived
by Andrew Wilson

  • Publication Date: March 26, 2013
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1451671571
  • ISBN-13: 9781451671575