What makes Dead Wake so compelling is that Mr. Larson gives us the story of the hunters as well as the hunted. The story of Unterseeboot-20, the U-Boat that stalked the Lusitania, it’s Captain, Walther Schwieger, and his crew is fascinating. It would have been easy to paint them as merely black-hatted villains, but Mr. Larson doesn't take that route. He gives the whole story, with all its richness and complexity. He gives us compelling looks at Germany’s military, and its decision to change the rule of war, as well as Great Britain’s secret intelligence agencies, and the part that they played in the disaster.
What makes Dead Wake stand out, however, is the characters. Mr. Larson gives us the lives behind the story, of people great and small, famous and obscure, on all sides. President Woodrow Wilson plays an important role in this book, but I found the stories of the passengers and crew of both of these ships, destined to create history through a collusion of random events both small and large, far more interesting than his personal trials.
All in all, Dead Wake is a fascinating, emotional tale, told with care and an attention to detail that brings fresh life to a story that I thought that I knew, but realized I had ended up flipped onto my backside by surprise.