Book review: “Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived” by Andrew Wilson

“Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived” is a remarkable book.
BY DENNIE HALL Published: June 24, 2012
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When 1,500 lost their lives a century ago as the “unsinkable” Titanic slid into the icy North Atlantic, the story was far from over. The 711 survivors were so touched by tragedy that some later took their lives, others were so affected that they refused to speak of the horror, and many grieved every day as long as they drew a breath.

The story of the luxury ship that on its maiden voyage from Britain to this country hit an iceberg, has been recounted numerous times.

However, many untold stories abound, and they are the grist for “Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived” (Atria Hardcover, $25), a remarkable book.

Some in second- and third-class quarters were fairly ordinary souls; others who paraded the decks were the elite of their time. Andrew Wilson, the author of this and other books, is quite thorough in his research into lives of Titanic survivors.

One of the most compelling stories is that of Madeleine Astor, the 18-year-old socialite bride of John Jacob Astor. The unbelievably wealthy Astor, old enough to be Madeleine's father, bade his pregnant wife farewell as she was taken aboard a rescue boat with other women and children.

Astor bravely forfeited his life along with other men who were expected to step aside because lifeboats were too few. The story of Madeleine's life as a rich widow filled newspaper columns. When she gave up millions to remarry, that made newspaper fodder again, but not so much as when she seduced a young boxer who made a punching bag of her.

Some of the younger survivors lived until recent decades, telling their stories or keeping silent. Whatever the case, the book is touted as “a fascinating study in psychology, sociology and human nature.” So true!

— Dennie Hall