Iceberg Right Ahead: The Tragedy of the Titanic

Posted March 12, 2012 by Tara in Challenges /// 6 Comments

Iceberg Right Ahead: The Tragedy of the Titanic
by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson
Twenty First Century Books
Library copy from Junior Library Guild
[#22 in my 75 book challenge]

April 15, 2012 is the one hundredth anniversary of the night the Titanic sank in an ice field in the Atlantic. On that fateful night, more than 1,500 people lost their lives in the icy waters after the ship went down. Using photographs, artifacts, and personal accounts from survivors, McPherson takes readers through the complete history of the Titanic. She covers the building of the great ship, its maiden voyage, the sinking, the official inquiry of the incident, the effects on safety regulations, the search for the wreckage, and films. At around 112 pages, this is the perfect book for middle school and YA readers who want to know everything about the Titanic.

I love the Titanic. Since this is the one hundredth anniversary of the ship’s sinking, I’m finding myself fascinated by all the new material out there to learn more about the ill-fated ship. This particular book is great because it covers everything. It may not cover it in full-length-adult-non-fiction depth, but it covered it all well enough for me to learn new things. I especially loved the great statistics at the end about the percentages of total passengers in first, second, and third class and the break down of men, women, and children in each who survived.

Though the book is non-fiction, it tells the story well enough to stand out. Well-written non-fiction can pull you into the story like fiction, and this one does exactly that. To me, a child of the 80’s, sometimes the Titanic can seem like that — fiction. I have to step back sometimes and remember that this actually happened. There is a spot in the Atlantic Ocean where 1,500 people floated in life jackets until they died of hypothermia in the middle of the night. And that is terrifying.

I think that is why the Titanic fascinates us. We all wonder what we would have done in the face of such chaos and tragedy. Would we escape? Become heroes? Accept our fate with peace or terror? The photos and descriptions provide by McPherson left me questioning all of those things. Of course, then I found myself wanting to watch the 1997 Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet Titanic movie and watch the big-budget Hollywood version of what happened. In fact, two of my favorite quotes in the book come from the movie’s director, James Cameron:

“I made Titanic because I wanted to dive to the shipwreck, not because I particularly wanted to the movie.”

“[The Titanic is] the quintessential story of loss, of coming to terms with death, heroism and cowardice, and the full spectrum of human response before, during, and after a crisis.”

Final Grade:   B   I’ve said before that it’s hard for a non-fiction book to get an A from me, and that holds with this book. It’s a FABULOUS read, a great non-fiction book, and it definitely stands out among other young adult non-fiction titles and Titanic books alike. But non-fiction always falls a little short of “OMG AMAZING” for me. And that’s okay! My students will love this one, so will adults, and I highly recommend it for everyone over the age of eleven. I could see this paring well for a fiction/non-fiction unit with The Watch The Ends The Night by Allan Wolf, which covers a lot of the same people.

Are you as fascinated by the Titanic as I am? What is is about disasters that fascinates us? And will you go see Rose and Leo on the big screen when they return this spring?


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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6 responses to “Iceberg Right Ahead: The Tragedy of the Titanic

  1. popcultmag1

    We are based in Southampton where the Titanic sailed from. A third of the people who died in the Titanic tragedy came from here. The city is planning to commemorate (cash in on) their memories.

    What makes it intriguing is they said the ship could never be sunk. Any other great claims in history where people then fell flat on their face?

    Nice blog btw..

  2. “Are you as fascinated by the Titanic as I am? What is is about disasters that fascinates us? ”

    For me, I think it’s all of the what-ifs and the fact that the disaster may have been avoided. And it seems to be all the more tragic since so many innocent people died, you and old alike.

  3. Thanks for this great review! While I don’t think that I’ll be seeing Rose and Leo on the big screen again (I think that the seven or eight times I saw it as a tween is enough), I will definitely take a look at this book.

  4. I’m right with you on the ‘child of the 80s, seems like fiction’. I remember reading a book called ‘A Night To Remember’ in Grade 5 or 6, and it was written in the 50s. It didn’t help bring it closer to reality at all. Great review, I might have to take a look at this book.
    Have you heard of Gordon Korman’s Titanic book series? It’s for the middle grade set, and here’s a review from a youngster:

  5. I know what you mean about non-fiction never getting an A from me! That is how I am, except for one or two sagas writting by Native Americans. Like you, I often have to remind myself that the events of the Titanic sinking was only too real!

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