Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage by Hugh Brewster

The Titanic sailed and sank in 1912, a hundred years ago.  This book focuses on the first-class passengers on that ship, most of whose names mean nothing to the modern reader.  At that time, however, they were “the Gilded Age masters of the universe.”  The voyage was not only a means of transportation but a social time, since most of the first-class passengers knew at least some of their fellow travelers or, at the very least, had mutual acquaintances.  They were carefully separated from the lower-class passengers onboard; first-class passengers even held separate church services.

These wealthy passengers came from many backgrounds, some having inherited wealth and others having earned their money through hard work.  They included America’s wealthiest man, John Jacob Astor IV, and his young, pregnant wife, as well as a famous fashion designer, a well-known artist, a military advisor to Teddy Roosevelt and later to William Howard Taft, a British journalist who exposed sex slavery (yes, that evil existed 100 years ago), a tennis champion, and the heroine of the disaster, who was later called “the unsinkable Molly Brown.”

The book tells the story of the voyage, of the lapses in judgment which led to the disaster, and of the tragic deaths of about two-thirds of the passengers.  It also highlights the lifestyles and life histories of the first-class passengers. Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage is a scholarly telling – but also a readable one.

Brewster has edited, published, and written books about the Titanic for twenty-five years.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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