TITANIC: Minute by Minute
by Jonathan Mayo
Short Books, London
Paperback: 304 pages
Price: AUD $22.99
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
Just over one hundred years after the disaster, public interest in the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, shows no sign of abating. Jonathan Mayo, a freelance writer and former BBC journalist whose works include other publications in the Minute by Minute series, such as Hitler’s Last Day, D-Day, and The Assassination of JFK, explores the foundering of the Titanic.
As the title of this book suggests, this volume re-tells the story of the sinking of the supposedly “unsinkable ship” minute by minute. The introduction begins with the sinking of the White Star Liner Republicin 1909. Thanks to the recent invention of wireless, the ship was able to alert ships nearby that it was sinking, and all passengers and crew (apart from the few killed when the Florida collided with the Republic) were successfully evacuated to other ships prior to the sinking.
Ironically, this success was to set the scene for the sinking of the Titanic, as it was widely believed that with the invention of wireless telegraphy other ships would reach a ship in distress before it sank; hence, there was no need for a vessel to carry sufficient lifeboats for everyone on board as it was generally believed that the function of lifeboats was to transfer personnel from a damaged ship to other vessels.
The narrative itself begins just over 24 hours before the sinking at midnight on April 14, describing events at various points of the ship at regular intervals. In this early section, readers get a glimpse of the working of a ship, and of the experiences of passengers in the three classes, as well as the inaction that was to contribute significantly to the disaster, in particular the ship maintaining her speed despite numerous ice warnings received from other ships.
From the point at which the ship collides with the iceberg – 11.40pm on April 14 – Mayo recounts the events almost by the minute. Although most narratives examine the sinking chronologically, by analysing events by the minute, here readers get a sense of the events as they actually occurred.
One challenge in reconstructing the narrative this way is in putting the events in the correct time sequence to the minute, which Mayo seems to have been largely successful in doing. In doing so, Mayo’s narrative maintains its cohesion largely because he focuses on different persons in the Titanic story at different points in time.
Titanic Minute by Minute approaches the Titanic tragedy from a different narrative perspective; hence, this volume complements and is a welcome addition to the myriad other narratives already in circulation about the Titanic. The author has drawn on an extensive array of secondary sources, as well as some interviews of survivors in the BBC archives to compile this work.
As a reader who is familiar with a number of other works on this subject matter, it is this reviewer’s sense that some prior knowledge of the main details of the sinking that could be ascertained by watching some of the excellent documentaries on YouTube about the Titanic would help the reader better understand this work.