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Don Lynch & Ken Marschall – Ghosts of the Abyss: A Journey into the Heart of the Titanic

May 18, 2009

59. Ghosts of the Abyss: A Journey into the Heart of the Titanic by Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, introduction by James Cameron (2003)

Length: 144 pages

Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 13 May 2009
Finished: 14 May 2009

Where did it come from? Library
Why do I have it? Because I saw it on my library’s “new books” RSS feed (I’m a nerd, I know, shut up) and it reminded me of a book I read in grade school (more below).

Cool findings, but not
a complete history of
the most famous ship.

Summary: Ghosts of the Abyss was written by two Titanic scholars as a companion to and record of James Cameron’s 2003 film of the same name. After the huge success of his 1997 film, Cameron returned to the wreck of the Titanic to get more footage, armed with new submersibles, new cameras, new lights, and new remote-operated vehicles that were small enough to enter parts of the ship that have lain unseen since April 14th, 1912. Photographs from the wreckage and their period counterparts are alternated with sections that describe the voyage and sinking of the great ship, as well as the authors’ recollections of the expedition to its remains – a visit to the remains of one of the greatest tragedies of the early twentieth century, a visit that coincided with the greatest tragedy of the early twentyfirst century: the attack on the World Trade Center.

Review: I was just starting school when the wreck of the Titanic was discovered in 1985, and while I don’t remember knowing about it as news, I certainly knew the story of how the great ship went down (thanks to perhaps the world’s most inappropriately jaunty campfire song). My grade school library had this fantastic book that had diagrams of the boat, descriptions of what happened, maps of how it lay now on the ocean floor, and – best, to my mind – pictures of the wreckage lined up with pictures of corresponding structures or objects from 1912. I had that book checked out almost continuously through grade school, and although I can’t remember which book it was, when I saw Ghosts of the Abyss, I knew I had to check it out and see how it compared.

On some fronts, it’s fantastic. The expedition that formed the basis of the book penetrated deeper into the wreck than any before it, and there are some amazingly intact things amidst the wreckage. There’s a definite power to seeing actual objects that were last seen and used and handled by people over ninety years ago, especially when they can be matched up to identical period photographs. These “then-and-now” sections this book does very well, and these parts at least are a worthy addition to the bulk of knowledge about the ship and its history. However, the book is lacking a lot of relevant information – no maps or diagrams of the ship, for starters – and so feels incomplete. Also, it’s pretty clear that being one of the world’s foremost experts on the Titanic does not automatically make one a gifted writer – the narrative descriptions both of the sinking of the Titanic and of this expedition to its wreckage are kind of stilted and strangely paced, and the parallels to the September 11th attacks (which happened while one of the authors was actually two and a half miles underwater, at the wreck site) weren’t really handled with the subtlety or power that they could have had in a more practiced storyteller’s hands. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Since this is technically a companion to a film which I have not seen, perhaps I’m judging it too harshly for being incomplete. However, if you’re after a general book about the exploration of the Titanic, there have to be more thorough ones out there… and this one doesn’t hold a candle to the memory of the one I loved during grade school.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Second Officer Charles Lightoller braced himself as a stiff gust of wind whipped against his uniform.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2009 12:14 pm

    Sorry this didn’t live up to your expectations.

  2. May 18, 2009 3:17 pm

    I went through a period where I was a big Titanic history nerd. I have been thinking lately that I should read more!

    Now, let me go check the bookshelf for the title of my favourite…

    Titanic: An Illustrated History by well, the same authors… It’s been about ten years since I last read it, so I can’t promise it is great anymore…

  3. May 18, 2009 10:03 pm

    I caught Titanic fever last year when we were in Halifax on holidays – grabbed a bunch of books then but haven’t yet found a really good book on the Titanic. And I wish my library had an RSS feed for new books – that would be amazing!

  4. May 19, 2009 3:04 pm

    bermudaonion – Eh, it’s probably one of those cases where the exact same book from grade school wouldn’t live up to my expectations, either. :)

    Kailana – Oooh, I’ll have to check that out, it sounds like it’s full of exactly what was missing from this book!

    Belle – Well, let me know if you find a good Titanic book… apparently the fever’s been incubating in me since sixth grade. :)

  5. May 24, 2009 1:50 pm

    I remember seeing this documentary on TV I think…

  6. May 25, 2009 12:29 pm

    Ladytink – I got the DVD out of the library, and it was quite good. It works together with the book well, but I think it’s more powerful in movie form – I got a better sense of what it was really like down there from the video images than I did from the still pictures.

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