Every child who enjoys reading will sooner or later begin to explore the world of grown-up books. The first ones I ever read were bought in an antique shop in the picturesque town of Cromarty on the Black Isle. I can’t recall my exact age or the year – about thirteen, around 1975 – but the second-hand paperbacks I found there and devoured over that three-week family holiday are very clear in my mind.
My literary hoard included a biography of Kit Carson, a POW escape story, an Arthur Hailey novel and Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember. Of these, the only one I’ve returned to down the years is Lord’s haunting minute-by-minute account of the sinking of the Titanic. Many books about this famous and ill-fated ship have come and gone, but A Night to Remember has outlived them all. First published in 1955, it remains in print today and is as fresh and compelling as ever.
The loss of the Titanic has loomed large in the popular imagination from the very beginning – thousands of people lined the quays to watch the Carpathia arrive in New York with the survivors. The Titanic was, after all, the most luxurious ship that had ever taken to the waves, boasted a passenger list which included the rich and the famous, and was popularly regarded as unsinkable – all this we know. But dull books can be written about fascinating subjects.
So why is Walter Lord’s account so gripping? Put very simply, he takes us there, and he makes us care. A Night to Remember has no routine opening chapters about the history of the White Star Line or how the ship was built. Instead, from the very start, we are there in the North Atlantic on that freezing night in 1912, high up in the crow’s-nest with Frederick Fleet as he keeps lookout and suddenly sees the iceberg straight ahead. In the pages that follow we’re introduced to many other characters and discover what they saw, felt and said as events unfolded
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