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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Titanic by Anton Gill

Bookcase 21's Titanic: Building the World's Most Famous Ship by Anton Gill was the third non-fiction book in a row I have read which proved to be a bit of a slog.

I wouldn't have chosen this book to read in the normal course of events, and my decision would have been a wise one. Being instinctively a theoretician only concerned with abstract things, I have no great interest in construction projects like building the Titanic (or painting my house!). I am interested, as the veteran of two modern day cruises, of what life was like aboard the early cruise ships - which also functioned as the primary long-haul transport mechanism until aircraft were capable of carrying passengers on flights over oceans. But to get to that part of the book I had to plough my way through several chapters about the construction of the Titanic, which in itself was not a noteworthy event with several similar ships being built around the same time.

What did I learn from the book? Quite a few people died constructing it, which was not unusual in the early 20th century, as health and safety is not the focus that it is today. The arrogance of the owners and designers was such that nobody thought it would ever sink and little or no thought was given to how to get people on board what life boats there were, and how to launch them. Likewise only lip service was given to looking out for obstacles like icebergs, and no real plan was in place for how to deal with such an eventuality or how to evacuate the vessel should it happen.

I suppose the equivalent today is aircraft and the recent case where a co-pilot with mental health problems was left in charge of a plane. The same assumption of the equipment's infallibility was made. In 1912 a simple measure like giving the people on watch binoculars would probably have saved the day; in 2015 not allowing a single person in the cabin would almost certainly have prevented 150 deaths.

The book though for me had too much detail about material I wasn't interested in and gets 4 out of 10. This is probably a little unfair on the author as its a good book if you have an interest in the subject matter - as I didn't I shouldn't really have been reading it. But the nature of this project is I read everything in my path and overcome my assumptions about what I will and won't like. There have been a few surprises so far when I've got something out of a book I thought I wouldn't.

My second and last transport book is On the Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys by Michael Williams.

I travel on trains lots being a non-driver. I've been all over the country on trains, watching football matches, on holiday, or occasionally with work, so I will be very interested in this book. The chances are I will have been on at least some of the train journeys mentioned in the book. In the last couple of years I have read two books by Tom Chesshyre about train journeys, the most recent book I read by him was called To Hull And Back. That book was more about the destinations rather than the journey, I think this book will focus on the travelling.

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