In the Congressional investigation that was conducted in New York City just days after the tragic sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 J. Bruce Ismay claimed that he was nothing more than a passenger on the ill-fated ship. To most observers this seemed to be a rather preposterous position to take. You see J. Bruce Ismay just happened to be chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, the owner of the Titanic. What made matters considerably worse for Mr. Ismay was his decision to save himself by jumping into one of the last lifeboats to be lowered into the frosty waters of the North Atlantic while there were still countless women and children on board. It was a decision that he could simply never live down. What would become of J. Bruce Ismay is the subject of author Frances Wilson's fascinating new book "How To Survive The Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay". This is a book that grabbed by attention in the opening paragraphs and simply never let go.
I would have to say that my very favorite genre of nonfiction are books about disasters. This would be equally true of both natural disasters and those caused by man. I am always captivated by the way individuals react to such circumstances and wonder how I might respond. When J. Bruce Ismay appeared before that Congressional committee chaired by Sen. William A. Smith (R-MI) he insisted that he saw no women and children or any other passengers for that matter when he entered the lifeboat. Furthermore, he assumed absolutely no responsibility for the paucity of lifeboats on board the ill-fated ship. Ismay was digging himself a hole he would never be able to emerge from. In fact, many observers believed it would have been better for him had he perished that night.
Back in 1899 author Joseph Conrad published a novel entitled "Lord Jim". The events depicted in this book about the son of a parson who goes to sea to make a name for himself eerily mirror what happened on the Titanic. Frances Wilson cleverly weaves in quotations from "Lord Jim" and compares the actions of the fictitious Jim with Ismay. Furthermore, Wilson also quotes Conrad from an article he published in May 1912 entitled "Some Reflections on the Loss of the Titanic". It seems that Joseph Conrad had some very strong opinions about ships like the Titanic.
For most of the rest of his life J. Bruce Islay would become increasingly reclusive. According to his granddaughter Pauline Matarasso "When he laid aside his public persona in 1913 he stood stripped to the basics-a man so emotionally inhibited and so narrow in his interests as to be inapt for normal family and social life. Reclusion is the choice of those for whom the chronic pain of isolation seems preferable to the agony of rebuff." "How To Survive The Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay" proves to be a unique and exceptionally well-written book. In fact, I would have to conclude that this is one of the best books I have read thus far in 2011. Very highly recommended!
On the 100th anniversary of the Titanic (the ship's name a shorthand for both the event and its importance) is a poignant story that unlike so many about the ship is fresh and powerful in its impact. Wilson's biography of J. Bruce Ismay, the managing director and chairman of the White Star Line, is powerful in its simple presentation of the events and evidence that shattered Ismay's life that April night and left him alive for the rest of his 25 years. … more
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Award-winning historian Frances Wilson delivers a gripping new account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, looking at the collision and its aftermath through the prism of the demolished life and lost honor of the ship’s owner, J. Bruce Ismay. In a unique work of history evocative of Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Lord Jim, Wilson raises provocative moral questions about cowardice and heroism, memory and identity, survival and guilt—questions that revolve around Ismay’s loss of honor and identity as his monolithic venture—a ship called “The Last Word in Luxury” and “The Unsinkable”—was swallowed by the sea and subsumed in infamy forever.