Erick Larson’s best seller Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, to this reader raises as many questions about the 100-year-old story as it answers.  That in itself gives weight to this great mystery and the continued interest in this often explored maritime and political disaster.


Larson’s  writing begs for answers to the biggest question of all. Were the British through lack of communication and direct intervention complicit in the sinking of the great ship?  Was the sinking of the Lusitania necessary to bring America to the aid of the British in World War I?

Dead Wake is deep in detail of the broad cross-section of the Lusitania’s passengers which at times in the narrative overshadows the disaster itself. The author’s portrayal of Woodrow Wilson’s courtship of Edith Galt places his ardent pursuit of her within his tortured indecisiveness to bring America into the War.


On Friday, May 7, 1915 at 2:10 P.M. the Lusitania was struck by a single torpedo fired by German Submarine U-20. The great liner sank in 18 minutes. Over 1200  souls perished in a chaotic scene so inhuman that German U-Boat 20 Captain Schwieger lowered his periscope unable to view the calamity he had caused.

On April 17, 1917, two years after the sinking of the Lusitania and three additional American ships, Wilson asked a joint session of congress to declare War on Germany. The carnage at sea, however, may  not have been Wilson’s tipping point.  Larson walks the reader through the Zimmerman telegram, intercepted by British code-breakers, seeking to bring Mexico into the War with the promise to bring back to that nation its former lands in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Larson allows Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill  the last word. ” What he ( Wilson) did in April 1917, could have been done in May, 1915.  And if done then, what abridgment of the slaughter; what sparing of the agony; what ruin, what catastrophes would have been prevented; in how many million homes would an empty chair be occupied today.” I can imagine Churchill, 35 years later, reiterating the same words to FDR as they sat in the White House on the eve of America’s entry into World War II.

To delve further into the sinking of the Lusitania you may wish to read Lusitania, An Epic Tragedy, by Diana Preston.

Another writing of great merit by Erik Larson is In The Garden of Beasts.  For more detail on this book search




Jeff Shaara’s last installment in his Civil War series is the story  of William Tecumseh Sherman, and the final eight months of the war. The Fateful Lightning picks up Sherman’s march immediately after the sacking of Atlanta and follows his army through Georgia and the Carolinas.


There is little middle ground in the world of Civil War analysis regarding Sherman. The general is either hated as savage and brutal or respected as the finest battlefield commander of the war.  The Fateful Lightning, through Shaara’s use of the historical novel, brings a semblance  of balance to the Sherman legacy. Shaara’s  research is excellent.

Like all of Shaara’s  writing, using the vehicle of the novel, the key players are humanized. The genre also allows for the creation of fictional characters to flush out the story line. In this case a young slave, freed by Sherman’s march is among the thousands of  former slaves who follow Sherman’s army of liberation as it heads north, taking them away from their masters and plantations.  The story of freed slaves following the Union Army is also well told in another book, E.L. Doctorow’s The March.  Search gordonsgoodreads for an overview.

I also recommend the other three books in Shaara’s series.  A Blaze of Glory,  A Chain of Thunder, and The Smoke at Dawn. You will find my overviews of them here at gordonsgood reads. 

Shaara also wrote Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s The Killer Angels.










Now I am up to date on John Grisham and have met his new heroine. I like Samantha and I hope we hear more from her.  With Grisham it only takes a paragraph and you get the picture.


” I got nothing, he said between breaths as Mavis wiped tears and rattled away.  Just like that he’s outta work,  Mavis said.  No paycheck, no black lung benefits, no prospect of finding any kind of work.  All he’s ever done is work in the coalfields. What’s he supposed to do now?  You gotta help us Samantha. You gotta do something. This ain’t right.”

” Keely, the thirteen- year- old eased into the chair. She managed a gap toothed smile, more fitting for a ten-year-old. My Daddy liked you a lot, she said. Will you hold my hand? she asked. My Daddy said you were the only lawyer brave enough to fight the coal companies. You’re gonna stay and help us, aren’t you miss Sam?

It gets better and better with the turn of each page.

Gray Mountain begs for a sequel.



I had overlooked John Grisham’s The Racketeer until I spotted it at the library fiction shelf. “Missed that one,” I said to myself.  Glad I found it.


Released in 2013, The Racketeer easily stands the test of Grisham excellence. He spins a complex story in his classic page turning fashion. A young lawyer, wrongfully imprisoned by the Feds, carefully plots and executes his revenge upon the system.  The tale travels through Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Jamaica  and Antigua. Of course there is a beautiful woman at the center of the twisting plot along with an intriguing cast of characters.

Grisham’s  latest book is Gray Mountain, released last October, it followed Sycamore Row.  I have placed it on my summer reading list.  Due from Grisham on October 20 of this year is his latest book, Rogue Lawyer. Search gordonsgoodreads for other Grisham offerings.