April 14, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The “unsinkable subject,” the story of the giant ship that sank on its maiden voyage, has become one of our most potent modern parables and enduring metaphors. The image of the ship’s plunging stern is an icon, and expressions like “rearranging the deck chairs” and “hitting the iceberg” need no explanation.
Yet on a cold, clear April night the disaster happened to real people—stokers, millionaires, society ladies, parsons, parlourmaids—people who displayed a full range of all-too-human reactions as the events of the night unfolded. With new research, R.M.S. Titanic weaves the dramatic story of that fateful crossing with compelling portraits of the people on board—those who survived, and those who tragically lost their lives—allowing us to place ourselves on that sloping deck and ask, “What would we do?” (hb)