3 July 2016

Review: THE OTHER SIDE OF NIGHT: The Carpathia, the Californian and the Night the Titanic Was Lost- audio book

Synopsis (Audible.com)

After every disaster, someone has something to hide....

A few minutes before midnight on April 14, 1912, the "unsinkable" RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage to New York, struck an iceberg. Less than three hours later she lay at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. While the world has remained fascinated by the tragedy, the most amazing drama of those fateful hours was not played out aboard the doomed liner.

It took place on the decks of two other ships, one 58 miles distant from the sinking Titanic, the other barely 10 miles away. The masters of the steamships Carpathia and Californian, Captain Arthur Rostron and Captain Stanley Lord, were informed within minutes of each other that their vessels had picked up the distress signals of a sinking ship. Their actions in the hours and days that followed would become the stuff of legend, as one would choose to take his ship into dangerous waters to answer the call for help, while the other would decide that the hazard to himself and his command was too great to risk responding.

After years of research, Daniel Allen Butler now tells this incredible story, moving from ship to ship on the icy waters of the North Atlantic - in real time - to recount how hundreds of people could have been rescued, but in the end only a few outside of the meager lifeboats were saved. He then looks alike at the U.S. Senate investigation in Washington, and ultimately the British Board of Trade inquiry in London, where the actions of each captain are probed, questioned, and judged, until the truth of what actually happened aboard the Titanic, the Carpathia and the Californian is revealed.

My Take

This is part of my attempt to read a little more than crime fiction: so this is history and non crime fiction.

It is a very compelling account of what happened on the night of April 14/15 1912, when the unsinkable Titanic sank. It is strongly read, although there are passage that I suspect in the book were accompanied by maps and charts, and so the technical details would have been clearer. Nevertheless the account is very clear, almost vindictive, not just an account of what happened but an attempt to explain why it happened.

Like both the official inquiries, the author concludes that Captain Smith of the Titanic was not sufficiently cautious given that he was entering an ice field, and therefore must take some of the blame for the loss of life. The inadequacy of the life boat provision was a major cause of loss of life, plus the fact that the Titanic sent some boats off only half full, and the fact that they had no clear life boat drill, because of course the Titanic was assumed to be unsinkable.  He concludes that the Carpathia was just too far away to get there in time, but that the Californian, though closer, could not have got there in time to pick up all the Titanic's passengers. Nevertheless he claims that a further 300 lives could have been saved.

The loss of the Titanic resulted in considerable changes in safety regulations particularly in relation to provision of life boats, 24 hr radio watches, and clarification of distress signals.

The arguments are well presented and well supported. Makes very interesting reading.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Daniel Allen Butler, a maritime and military historian, is the best-selling author of "Unsinkable": The Full Story of RMS Titanic, Distant Victory: The Battle of Jutland and the Allied Triumph in the First World War, and The First Jihad: The Battle for Khartoum and the Dawn of Militant Islam. He is an internationally recognized authority on maritime subjects and a popular guest-speaker for several cruise lines. Butler lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

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