Book Notes: The Glass Castle and Dead Wake

Two well-written non-fiction books, each crafted by an acclaimed author make for absorbing reading.
Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle: A Memoir following its initial publication in 2005 appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for an incredible 261 weeks.

Wall’s non-fiction account recently reemerged as a best seller in the wake of the release of the motion picture adaptation.

Through the pages of her stranger-than-fiction account, Walls recalls the joys and struggles of her childhood and teenage years.

A true page-turner, her memoir provides unflinching insights into her highly dysfunctional family and the resulting deprivation endured by all. Symptomatic of such suffering was her alcoholic father, who fancied himself an aspiring innovator but whose irresponsible behavior cursed the family with unrelenting poverty.

Her mother, an unfulfilled artist and writer experienced constant bouts of chronic depression, causing her to ignore her motherly responsibilities. During Jeannette’s formative years, the family led a nomadic existence, living in a series of communities in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Ultimately, the family settled in Welsh, West Virginia—a downtrodden Appalachian coal mining community.

As Jeannette came of age, she along with her older sister sought the means to escape her intolerable environment particularly as the family’s situation further deteriorated. In sum, The Glass Castle holds the reader’s attention throughout.

Equally engaging is Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by master story teller Erik Larson. Through his gripping account, Larson vividly captures the drama surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915.

A casualty of World War I, a German U-Boat torpedoed the British luxury liner twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland, killing 1,198 passengers, including 123 Americans.

This audacious attack generated a storm of indignation, particularly in the United States, which had declared its neutrality.

There had been numerous warnings of a possible attack, including the publication in New York City newspapers of a German warning on the morning of the ship’s sailing.

The British Admiralty had broken the German codes enabling it to track the whereabouts of U-Boats, including U-20—the deadly craft that sunk the Lusitania.

Larson provides a series of vivid personal accounts of passengers and crew aboard the doomed vessel. Dead Wake effectively recreates the tension of the whole affair from both the British and German perspectives.

Newell G. Bringhurst, a retired professor of History and Political Science, welcomes responses and comments at [email protected]

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