#20: Titanic’s Last Secrets, by Brad Matsen

Begun: 3/20/2011
Finished: 3/20/2011
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5

I’m a bit of a Titanic buff.  I’ve read tons of books about it.  It all started in the 8th grade when my advanced English class did a unit about it for no reason I can discern.  But I was fascinated, we all were, and that was just about the time that the wreck was discovered by Robert Ballard.  And ever since, the Titaniacs (as they’re apparently called), both amateur and professional, have been arguing over how the ship broke up, what sunk it, why did it sink so fast, yadda yadda.  When That Movie came out in 1997, Cameron’s depiction of the sinking (a high-angle break, big drama) was reflective of the best theory of the time.  But that theory’s been cast into some doubt, largely because of the work described in this book which was done by the two wreck divers whose previous exploits were published in the Shadow Divers books and chronicled on TV on “Deep Sea Detectives.”

Their theory is that weaknesses in the hull caused by newly-designed expansion joints made the ship break in two at a much lower angle than the 45 degrees we tend to think of, as little as 11 degrees, which means the sinking would have occurred extremely fast when the ship was still pretty close to horizontal.  Huge pieces of the bottom of the ship (which the divers found among the wreckage) ripped away and the whole thing flooded like gangbusters, taking most people on board by surprise.  It’s a much more horrible situation than a high-angle break, wherein everyone could see what was happening.

The book is surprisingly heavy on history, but it’s a section of the ship’s history one doesn’t often see chronicled: its building and the politics around it, and the men who made it possible.  I was fascinated by this although not everybody would be.  I’d say only 40% of the book was about the current work and the dives to the wreck, and then the investigation.  Most of it was history.  Relatively little time is spent on the Titanic’s voyage and sinking (we know this ground pretty well already).

I love a book I can read in a day.  I love it when I have a day that I can just devote to reading.  Not terribly common these days.  So thanks for the quick, interesting read, guys.

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