Nonfiction is so much more difficult to write than fiction. You can’t fudge things. Your research needs to be impeccable, and on top of all of that you need to figure out how to tell the story in a way that satisfies out thirst for drama and character and narrative. Erik Larsen is one of the masters of narrative nonfiction.
Larsen zooms in and out of the event of the sinking, over viewing massive world events, and also discussing the emotions and experiences of individual passengers. This lens makes for a treatment of history that is as vast as is necessary to understand the chain of world events while still honoring the human element.
Larsen doesn’t glorify the morbid fates of the poor passengers or relish them in any way, to shock for the sake of shock. All he had to do to make it real was tell the truth. The line about how the clothing worn by infants and toddlers being heavy and complicated didn’t help their odds was all I needed to start crying and wake up my daughter just to hold her.
The savagery of history doesn’t need to be jazzed up, it just needs to be told with graceful frankness. This was a good book. I learned, I smiled, I cried, and I hated the cruelties of war that are still going on today all over the world.