Feature

Titanic’s Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Brad Matsen

Brad Matsen&rsquo;s &ldquo;meticulously researched and crisply written&rdquo; book draws new&mdash;and infuriating&mdash;conclusions about why the <em>Titanic</em> went down so quickly.

Titanic’s Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Brad Matsen (Twelve, $28)

Shipwreck diver John Chatter­ton was skeptical when a Philadelphia man called him in 2005 claiming that the sunken Titanic still hid a great mystery. This man was a lawyer who had been on an archival expedition five years before and seen great ribbons of steel lying on the ocean floor roughly half a mile from the broken ship’s stern and bow. No other expedition seemed to have encountered the stray wreckage. If Chatterton could raise funding quickly, the caller said, his team could return to the wreck and answer, once and for all, why the mammoth luxury liner had sunk less than three hours after it struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage.

The speed with which the Titanic sank caused countless unnecessary deaths, said Lisa Albers in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The great bulk of the tragedy’s 1,500 victims perished in the North Atlantic’s icy waters just 70 minutes before a rescue ship arrived. Brad Matsen’s deftly told detective story draws new—and infuriating—conclusions about how it went down so fast. By Chatterton’s reckoning, the Titanic wasn’t a mighty ship at all. Because its builders were trying to shave costs and reduce travel time, they built it using steel that was too thin and held together by rivets that were too small. Torn by the iceberg, the flimsy ship snapped below the water line like a stick of celery.

Matsen’s story features at least one “unlikely hero,” said Bob Simmons in The Seattle Times. Once the engineering puzzle was solved by Chatterton and partner Richie Kohler, a former archivist for the company that built the Titanic came forward with records indicating that his employer had known within months of the tragedy why the ship failed. Absent the cover-up, said Jeneen Interlandi in Newsweek, the lawsuits of the victims’ families “would have bankrupted the Titanic’s owners—J.P. Morgan among them.” Instead, government investigators pinned blame on the ship’s captain. The reason for the ship’s sudden demise turns out to be “as shocking as it is simple,” said Larry Cox in the Tucson Citizen. Greed is the culprit in Matsen’s “meticulously researched and crisply written” account.

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