Recycled #Review: A Night To Remember by Walter Lord

RecycledReviews-blueThis review of Walter Lord’s A Night To Remember was first posted at my old Flights-a-Fancy blog on 6/6/12, and I’ve decided to recycle it today.

Night to RememberA Night To Remember/
by Walter Lord
Henry Holt, 2005 edition
Trade Paperback (from library)

It has been over one hundred years since the Titanic disaster, and people are still fascinated by the ship and her fate. Lord’s classic account of the sinking is still noteworthy for the painstaking detail, much of it based on eyewitness accounts by survivors still alive in 1955. Step by step, he takes us through the events of that night, starting with the lookouts who didn’t see the iceberg in time because the binoculars they were supposed to be using were locked in a chest and the key was in London. (The result of a last-minute change in the officers assigned to the ship.)

We hear from people from all three passenger classes – the very wealthy, the middle class, and the lowly immigrants – and crew members from the officers to humble stewards. Though at times the book reads like fiction, it is not. He did an impressive amount of research which is detailed in the Acknowledgements section at the end. From the retrospective of the 21st century, the book represents an impressive undertaking in a world of print-only resources.

film posterI also rented the film, produced in 1958, but it wasn’t the movie I remembered from my childhood. That one was Titanic, starring Clifton Webb, which came out two years before Lord’s book. The film version of A Night To Remember is a British production starring Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller and a young David McCallum as Officer Lord. I was surprised at first to realize A Night To Remember was filmed in black and white, but I soon understood why. By not using color, they were able to mix archival footage of the actual ship with the movie reels. So we see the Titanic being christened and sailing off from Southampton as it really happened. There was no such thing as CGI in 1958!

For the best sense of what it might have been like to actually be on the Titanic, nothing can beat James Cameron’s 1997 epic. Like the fictional love story or despise it, the special effects are overwhelming and incredible. In my opinion, it deserved the Oscar simply for being a monumental and innovative piece of moviemaking. And the musical score is both beautiful and haunting.

After reading A Night To Remember, I think I understand why the story of the Titanic still draws us. It was one of the greatest disasters of all time, and it changed maritime history (and law) forever. But at its heart, it’s a very human story– of arrogance and hubris, negligence, bad luck and denial, bravery and cowardice, indifference and sacrifice. A testament to the bad and the good to be found in human nature. And for that reason, it is a story that will live forever in human memory.

At the end of a recent documentary on the Titanic, James Cameron talks about the ship as a microcosm of 1912 society, with its class distinctions. He also sees the image of the unwieldy ship sailing into the iceberg as a metaphor for a continent about to go over a cliff and into one of the most destructive and unnecessary wars of all time. (WWI) And then he talked about how things are not much different now. We are headed for an iceberg called “global climate change” and it’s too late to correct the system in time to prevent the crash.

If you haven’t read this book, I do recommend it.

Linda

First posted at Flights-a-Fancy 6/6/12

Book Review Club: The Monuments Men Book & Movie #amreading

Monuments Men book coverThe Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
NY: Center Street, 2009

(Click here for to read about the paintings on the book cover.)

Last year, Monuments Men was available as a Kindle Daily Deal for $1.99 so I grabbed a copy, but didn’t read it until this year. I found the book fascinating. What the monuments men did was remarkable, as no army in history had ever been convinced to even attempt to protect artwork and monuments. (And sadly, this has never been done again.) Fortunately, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Churchill realized that preserving European culture was important. Eisenhower issued an order that buildings designated as monuments could only be destroyed in situations of military necessity, not military convenience.

Madonna of Bruges

BRUGES, BELGIUM – JULY 30, 2014 : Madonna of Bruges by Michelangelo in church of Our Lady Bruges, July 30, 2014, in Bruges, Belgium

The monuments men were drawn from the museum and artistic community, and most of them were at least forty. This hits home even more in the movie when we see middle-aged men being recruited into the army. (Of course, many of the actors were far older than the characters they portrayed.) The men worked mostly alone, without a lot of resources. After the D-Day landings, they learned how much art had been looted by the Nazis. So the mission wasn’t just about protecting monuments from further destruction, it was also the greatest treasure hunt in history.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein castle in Germany – bottom view

One woman played a huge part: Rose Valland of the Louvre. She was a witness to the Nazi looting, and she risked her life to document what they had stolen and where they were shipping it. Without her help, much of the art might never have been found. I recommend the book unreservedly.

Had I watched the movie first, I might have liked it. I really wanted to like it, but I had read the book first. The movie changed the names of the people involved, which I found confusing and a little disrespectful, and created some composite characters. Some of the incidents in the book were highly dramatized for the film, and other scenes were just made up, no doubt for dramatic effect. Instead of enjoying it, I found myself mumbling things like, “that’s not what happened” and “that’s not the way it happened” etc.

My advice is: Read the book and skip the movie!

Linda

As always click on the graphic below to find more great book reviews from our awesome book review club.

Click icon for morebook review [email protected] Summy