Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Book Review: The Great Iron Ship

The Great Iron Ship
James Dugan
History, engineering

I don't think I can put it any better than the back cover.

This [the S.S. Great Eastern] is the ship that 
  • Killed her designer
  • Drowned her first captain
  • Logged four mutinies
  • Killed thirty-five men
  • Survived the Atlantic's weirdest storm
  • Laid the Atlantic Cable
  • Sank four ships
  • Made six knights
  • Caused sixteen lawsuits
  • Was six times at auction
  • Boarded two million sightseers
  • Ended as a floating circus
Aside from that, The Great Iron Ship is well-written, occasionally sardonic, briskly-paced, not exhaustively deep, and well-structured as a narrative. I think Dugan pays maybe a little too much attention to the so-called "jinx" on the Great Eastern. To my mind, the real story is not the jinx but just how astonishingly it was, in the mid-19th century, people getting randomly killed or maimed in fights or crowds or just weird stuff. (Imagine someone getting killed nowadays by an accident when firing a 21-gun salute, for example. It wouldn't just be waved off!) And, of course, I want more engineering! Still, a very good book.

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