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On Titanic's centennial, myriad books tell the enduringly fascinating story

One hundred years ago today, the maiden voyage of the Titanic ended in a field of icebergs as the riven ship went down and 1,514 of the 2,224 people aboard died.

Countless disasters have happened since, but Titanic's fate still haunts us. Almost from the moment the first radio reports of its sinking sputtered onshore, the catastrophe captured the popular imagination.

To mark the centennial, there are events and tours, and of course the re-release of the multiple-Oscar-winning 1997 film Titanic, retrofitted with 3-D.

And there are enough books about the ship to sink it all over again.

History, biography, nonfiction narrative, fiction, photography, even a build-your-own scale model — just about every kind of book you can think of has been inspired by Titanic.

Here are some of the new, and newly revised, books published this year. Just paging through them reveals two things: First, the debate over many aspects of Titanic's fate — the behavior of its captain, its owner and others; the explanations for its fatal collision with an iceberg and for the chaos that sent lifeboats out with empty seats and left many to die — is as heated, and unsettled, as ever. And second, although the ship itself lies more than 2 miles deep on the ocean floor, the story of what happened April 15, 1912, will stay afloat for many years to come.

THE SHIP AND ITS SINKING

Report Into the Loss of the SS Titanic: A Centennial Reappraisal (History Press) by Samuel Halpern, with Cathy Akers-Jordan, George Behe, Bruce Beveridge, Mark Chirnside, Tad Fitch, Dave Gittins, Steve Hall, Lester J. Mitcham, Capt. Charles Weeks and Bill Wormstedt, bills itself as "the ultimate Titanic reference," and it's not kidding. Assembled by a team of experts, its 383 pages are packed with charts, maps, lists and diagrams analyzing the ship's design and construction, comparing the numbers of passengers lost and saved by class and gender, evaluating the actions of the crew and the rescuers, reviewing the investigations into the disaster and much, much more.

101 Things You Thought You Knew About the Titanic ... But Didn't! (Penguin) by Tim Maltin with Eloise Aston addresses all sorts of factoids about the ship: that its maiden voyage carried a maximum number of passengers (it was only half full), that those who perished drowned (most died of hypothermia), that its builders skimped on the number of lifeboats (Titanic had more lifeboats than regulations required) and more.

Titanic: The Death and Life of a Legend (Vintage) by Michael Davie, updated by Dave Gittins, was originally published in 1986. It covers the Titanic story starting with the powerful shipbuilder who created it and ending with a modern visit to the cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many of the disaster's victims were buried.

Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic (Da Capo Press) by Daniel Allen Butler is an updated edition of a 1998 bestseller by a military and maritime historian who based it on 30 years of research, including many primary sources, to create an accessible narrative of the ship's history, the night of the collision and the recent salvage attempts.

The Unsinkable Titanic: The Triumph Behind a Disaster (History Press) by Allen Gibson focuses on the ship's then-groundbreaking technology and design, and how tension between safety and economics played into "a disaster that was as farcical as it is edifying; horrific, yet regal."

THE PEOPLE

And the Band Played On (Hodder) by Christopher Ward is a paperback edition of a 2011 bestseller in Great Britain; Ward is the grandson of Jock Hume, the 21-year-old violinist in the Titanic's band, which famously played on deck through the disaster and then went down with the ship. Ward tells Jock's story as well as describing the lasting impact of his death on his family.

Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic's First-Class Passengers and Their World (Crown) by Hugh Brewster sketches fascinating portraits of the ship's privileged Gilded Age passengers, such as John Jacob Astor IV, Benjamin Guggenheim, Margaret "Unsinkable Molly" Brown and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his couturiere wife, Lucile, and recounts their sometimes surprising fates.

How to Survive the Titanic, or, The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay (Harper Perennial) by Frances Wilson is a biography of the ship's owner and heir to the White Star Line fortune, who infamously climbed into a lifeboat with women and children and escaped, to spend the rest of his life being reviled. Among Wilson's sources are letters by the Ismay family not seen before.

Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town (Oxford) by John Welshman focuses on the stories of a dozen diverse passengers, including women and children as well as men, ranging from a millionaire in first class to immigrants in third class, to tell the story of the Titanic and its aftermath.

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived (Atria) by Andrew Wilson draws on letters, diaries and memoirs as well as interviews with survivors' families, all of which suggest that those who made it into the lifeboats weren't entirely lucky — many struggled with guilt, depression and emotional trauma for the rest of their lives.

Titanic: First Accounts (Penguin Classics), edited by Tim Maltin, gathers firsthand accounts and letters by some of the survivors, contemporary newspaper coverage and records of the inquiries into the sinking.

THE VISUALS

Build Your Own Titanic (Taschen) is a precision detailed kit for building a 1:200 cardboard model of the ship, measuring 53 inches long.

Titanic: The Tragedy That Shook the World, One Century Later (Life Books) is a handsome, large-format book that tells the story in words and images, including many striking photographs shot during the first part of the voyage by Father Frank Brown, a cleric and photographer who debarked in Queenstown, Ireland, before Titanic entered the open ocean.

THE FICTION

The Company of the Dead (Titan Books) by David J. Kowalski is a time-traveling alternative history adventure in which the sinking of the Titanic — and U.S. entry into World War I — are averted; fast-forward to 2012, when Germany occupies the U.S. east coast, Japan the west coast. Roswell, N.M., and the Kennedy family are related to it all somehow, too.

The Dressmaker (Doubleday) by Kate Alcott is a historical romance about Tess, a young woman hired as a lady's maid for the voyage. She lives through the sinking of the Titanic, but must cope with the media frenzy that follows as well as choosing between two suitors who also survived the catastrophe.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy (Titan) by William Seil puts Holmes and Dr. John Watson on board on a secret government mission, and in hot pursuit of Col. James Moriarty, brother of Holmes' greatest nemesis.

The House of Velvet and Glass (Voice) by Katherine Howe is a historical mystery-romance about a young woman who turns to spiritualism to try to communicate with her mother and sister after they die on the Titanic.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.

On Titanic's centennial, myriad books tell the enduringly fascinating story 04/13/12 [Last modified: Sunday, April 15, 2012 1:05am]

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