Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...
RAISING THE SUBJECT
ON APRIL 14, 1912, THE LUXURY OCEAN liner Titanic—hailed as unsinkable—slammed into an iceberg en route to New York from England and sank with more than half the 2,200 passengers still aboard. Nearly 85 years later, the disaster remains "one of the great mythic events of the 20th century," writes Steven Biel in his cultural history Down with the Old Canoe (Norton, $25). Biel found that the Titanic has been commercialized almost from the start. "In 1912, a movie, Saved from the Titanic, came out," he says. "A Travelers ad told men that though they couldn't be Titanic heroes, they could protect their women and children with insurance."
Biel's book addresses enduring myths about the ship: Is it true that men put the lives of women and children ahead of their own? Some certainly did, says Biel, who lives in Wakefield, Mass., with his wife and son. Yet we shouldn't forget, he says, that "at first it took more courage to get into a lifeboat in the North Atlantic than to stay on this great ship." One thing that did not happen, says Biel, was the band playing "Nearer My God to Thee" as the ship sank. Still, he says, "it gives the story such a wonderful ending."
Not that the story of the Titanic ever really ends. The most, famous retelling was Walter Lord's 1956 A Night to Remember, which became a movie in 1958. Clive Cussler's novel Raise the Titanic was a bestseller in 1990. Now there's a CBS mini-series starting Nov. 17, and a James Cameron movie and a Broadway musical, both due next year. In addition to Biel's book, you might want to check out these other current titles:
Titanic: Destination Disaster, John P. Eaton and Charles A. Haas (Norton, $15.95). A richly illustrated biography of the doomed vessel.
On Board the Titanic, Shelley Tanaka, paintings by Ken Marschall (Hyperion, $16.95). Child's-eye view, plump with engaging facts (ages 8-12).
SOS Titanic, Eve Bunting (Harcourt Brace, $12). Class barriers separate young Irish emigrants (ages 12 and up).
Every Man for Himself, Beryl Bain-bridge (Carroll & Graf, $21). Haunting tale of a fictional passenger's coming of age.
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