Best Books on the Titanic

As the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage celebrates its 100th anniversary, it will be commemorated by the release of Cameron’s 3-hour epic film, Titanic, in 3D. Miles Morgan Travel, based in England, has planned a a Titanic Memorial Cruise – 100th Anniversary Voyage aboard the Balmoral (owned by Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines), that will follow the exact same travel itinerary (hopefully dodging any menacing icebergs this time around) and dining from the same menu. Leaving Southampton on April 8, the ship will cross the Atlantic to arrive above the wreckage of the Titanic on April 14 and 15 (holding a memorial service at 2:20 am) and then head to Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrive in New York on April 20th. Inside staterooms run $999; ocean view staterooms run $5,200; suites run $2,999. An extravagant cruise isn’t for everyone — it’s a good thing that there is no shortage of interesting and affordable books for landlubbers:

Farewell, Titanic: Her Final Legacy by Charles Pellegrino, Wiley (2012). This is the third and most comprehensive book written by a Titanic expert. Pellegrino wrote Her Name, Titanic: The Real Story of the Sinking and Finding of the Unsinkable Ship in 1988, and followed it up with Ghosts of the Titanic, co-written by James Cameron in 2001. Pellegrino combines his own personal exploration of the ship, accumulated research from the most recent dives, accounts from witnesses and passengers, and insights from the most respected Titanic researchers, including Cameron and Walter Lord. Pellegrino handles equally well the human drama and emotion of the story as well as its complex scientific, archaeological, and historical aspects. This book is considered one of the definitive modern accounts of the disaster.

Life Titanic: The Tragedy that Shook the World: One Century Later by the editors of Life, Life (2012): One of the most up-to-date books on the subject drawing from recent research as well as archival material. This over-sized book also features a special section on the 3D version of the Cameron’s blockbuster, Titanic, and includes first-person accounts of that fateful night. The editors chose the presentation of very large photos rather than extensive, detailed text — with only 144 pages this book functions as a very brief, but capable overview.

The Titanic Experience: The Legend of the Unsinkable Ship by Beau Riffenburgh, Carlton (2009) and Metro Books (Centenary Edition, 2011). The only interactive book, it contains removable documents — facsimiles of baggage ticket, White Star ad, blueprint, postcard, telegrams, and memos — as well as beautiful illustrations and photographs that bring history alive. The book does an excellent job of summarizing much of what we know about the Titanic over the past century. Although a short book (64 pages) it is very comprehensive in terms of what it covers: the conception, construction, launch and voyage of the ship, the passengers, the collision, as well as the prophecies of the accident, the aftermath of the tragedy and its legacy. Like a DK Eyewitness book, the book features very interesting and visually compelling layouts.

Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers and Their World by Hugh Brewster, Crown (2012). One of the most respected (and prolific) Titanic historians writes a very detailed, scholarly but accessible, narrative of the Titanic’s maiden voyage focusing on the ethos of the gilded age and its people, specifically a handful of first-class passengers. It allows the reader to really experience the maiden voyage as witnessed by those privileged to travel in the lap of luxury. The book also features 100 photographs, some that have never been published before.

Titanic in Photographs by Daniel Klistorner and Steve Hall, The History Press (2012). Written by two Titanic experts, this oversized book features stunning new photos of the gigantic ship, during and after construction. As with the Brewster book, many of these photos have never been published before. Sadly, no extensive set of photos were ever taken of the Titanic’s interior; however the authors present 30 photos of her interior, supplemented by a few photos of her sister ship, the Olympic (built at the same time by Harland and Wolff)) to give the reader a sense of the extravagance of its interior. This is the first book in over a century to tell the Titanic story largely through some of the best archival photographs.

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson, Atria Books (2012). While most books cover the ship itself (its design, construction, etc.) and some famous passengers, this book provides a new lens for the Titanic tragedy — that of the survivors. This gripping collection of first-person accounts brings to life the horror that these survivors witnessed and the impact that it had on their lives. Few know that 10 survivors committed suicides several years after the tragedy.

The Rough Guide to the Titanic by Greg Ward, Rough Guides (2012). Like all the Rough Guides, this book doesn’t include a lot of photos, but it is packed with the latest research on every aspect of the Titanic story. The book does include a few diagrams and maps, but its real value is in the writing and lively presentation of the facts (a hallmark of Rough Guides). It could easily be considered the most succinct, yet most comprehensive, review of Titanic literature without the narrative detail of other books. It also contains very helpful supplementary information (the impact of Titanic on culture) and extensive bibliography.

Titanic by Simon Adams, Dorling Kindersley (2009). Part of DK’s Eyewitness library that has been hailed as a “museum between covers,” the book presents a comprehensive history of the times, the ship, the passengers and the aftermath through compelling images and succinct text. No publisher creates books as beautiful, well-researched, and as informative and entertaining as DK — you can simply open the book at any point and dive right in to learn about the subject matter. The book contains a CDROM with photos that are used in the book.

Lost Voices from the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History by Nick Barratt (2010). What better way to learn about the Titanic’s final moments than from the survivors themselves. Historian Nick Barratt presents the survivors’ emotional, heartwrenching stories without any neat narrative packaging. As with any story told from different points of views there are, of course, inconsistencies and disagreements. Barratt leaves it to the reader to sort out the conflicting details, accusations, and assumptions. Unlike most of the Titanic corpus, written in an objective and detached manner, the material in this book is very emotional and evocative.

Inside the Titanic: A Giant Cutaway Book by Ken Marschall and Hugh Brewster, Madison Press Book (1997). Although technically a children’s book, this book depicts in detail the labyrinthine inner structure of the largest ship in the world for its time. Marschall and Brewster did extensive research to present the ship’s structure accurately. It is one of the only books that gives you a complete view of the immensity, complexity, and grandeur of the ship through impressive and well-researched cut-away views that would be impossible to achieve through traditional photography.

Story of the Titanic by Eric Kentley and Steve Noon, Dorling Kindersley (2012). Again, another children’s book, but like Marschall and Brewser’s book above, shows revealing cut-away views (but not as detailed as the Marshall book) of the ship as well as presenting an up-to-date brief — but comprehensive — story of the Titanic from building to aftermath. As with any DK book, the photos and presentation is very compelling and engaging for both children and adults.

882 1/2 Amazing Answers to Your Questions About the Titanic by Hugh Brewster and Laurie Coulter, Scholastic Press (2012). Again, another children’s book, but if you want to skip the detailed narrative and historical background and get right down to the factoids, this book delivers in less than 100 pages. If you have a question about the Titanic this book probably answers it.

Other Notable Titles:
Who Sank the Titanic by Robert Strange, Pen & Sword (2012)
The Titanic: The History and Legacy of the World Most Famous Ship by Charles River Editors (2014)
Titanic Style: Dress and Fashion on the Voyage by Grace Evans (2012)

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