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.


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

Ireland’s “Titanic” Cities: Belfast and Cobh #TuesdayTravels

Tuesday Travel button

This week is the 104th anniversary of the SS Titanic’s maiden and only voyage, so it seems appropriate to highlight Belfast and Cobh, two of Ireland’s cities with ties to the ship.

The Titanic was built at the Belfast shipyards, and now the city has the largest Titanic attraction in the world, Titanic Belfast. Linda and I had recently toured the Titanic Artifact Exhibit in Buena Park, California, not far from where we live, so we decided to skip Titanic Belfast in favor of walking the walls of Londonderry. (I wish there had been time to do both.) We did get a brief glimpse of the attraction from the motorcoach, though my photo isn’t the best.

Titanic Belfast

Titanic Belfast is built on the site where Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the ship was built, was once located. The ship was launched from the shipyard on May 31, 1911 and towed to a dock for outfitting and finishing of the interior. For more information, check out this page from

Two days later, we docked at Cobh, pronounced Cove, which is what the name means, in County Cork. Cobh, or Queenstown, as it was called then, was Titanic’s last port of call before heading into the North Atlantic to meet its fate. Cobh is a lovely port city with reminders of Titanic, as in this 100-year memorial.

Titanic Memorial

The Titanic docked in Cobh on April 11 to pick up 123 passengers. This lovely town was the last glimpse of civilization seen by Titanic’s passengers.

Cobh with cathedral

colorful Cobh houses

It’s amazing how the story of the Titanic still fascinates after more than one hundred years. We may not realize what a big deal the sinking was, but it changed maritime law forever. Before the Titanic, ships weren’t required to have enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone on board. Wireless devices on the ship were used for passenger’s private messages, not to monitor sea conditions. Another change is that shipping lanes were moved further south away from the iceberg fields. Later in the week, I’ll post my review of Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember, a non-fiction account of the voyage.

I fell in love with County Cork and will report on more of what we saw there in future Tuesday Travels.