Her Name, Titanic, Charles Pellegrino

Avon, 1988 (1990 reprint), 283 pages, C$8.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-380-70892-2

Regular readers of these reviews will certainly remember my overall affection for the work of Charles Pellegrino. Here’s one author who, in my humble opinion, has rarely done wrong. (Notwithstanding his curiously inept Star Trek novel) Over the past few years, I have read one Pellegrino book after another, always managing to avoid his best-known work, Her Name, Titanic.

After reading the “sequel”, Ghosts of the Titanic, this seemed like an increasingly ridiculous situation. Fortunately, I was able to secure a copy of his 1988 bestseller and dug in, knowing that I’d get my time’s worth of pure enjoyment.

Once again, I wasn’t disappointed. Her Name, Titanic is fully the equal of Pellegrino’s other non-fiction books. Ghosts of the Titanic had a scattershot approach to the subject, leading me to speculate a more strictly chronological run-through of the voyage for the first volume. Fortunately, this isn’t so.

In fact, if you want an overview of the events surrounding the Titanic, you’d be better off watching the film. (Though the graphic inset between pages 92-93 will do just fine) Her Name, Titanic is as much about the 1985 re-discovery of the sunken relic as it is about the 1912 catastrophe. We’ll spend as much time with Robert Ballard and the Argo as with the ill-fated passengers of the ocean liner.

Perhaps more interestingly, we’ll spend all of this time with Charles Pellegrino himself. Her Name, Titanic is the centerpiece of his literary output; all of his other books refer to it in one way or another. (This is unfair actually; all of Pellegrino’s books refer to each other in what are often very, very twisted ways.) His books are unlike any others in that they present a glimpse in the scientific strangeness that’s just lurking beneath the surface of our humdrum lives. History isn’t something that happens in the past for Pellegrino; he’ll uncover jaw-dropping links between seemingly disparate events and present them with a passion that will leave you breathless. His writing style is very deliberately dramatic, though never without a deeply respectful quality. You might not be moved to tears by Her Name, Titanic, but don’t be surprised to find a few lumps in your throat.

The tangents explored by Pellegrino as almost as fascinating as the events themselves. Pellegrino is a man of eclectic interests, and he effortlessly links the Titanic to World War One, to the Challenger Shuttle disaster, to the life of Bob Ballard, to Apollo 11, to obsession. He admits in the introduction that he’s become obsessed with the ship, and this is, perhaps most of all, a book about this obsession. (Indeed, one of the most memorable passages of the book is a conversation with members of the Alvin crew who don’t share this obsession; “It was a job and we did it the best we could.” [P.221]

But don’t worry; by the end of the book, you’ll share Pellegrino’s fascination; I certainly did. His effective writing style, love for oddball details, ability to effectively present important information and keenness of mind will have you reading well after the point when you should reasonably stop. Heavens help you if you have the sequel nearby after you’re done with Her Name, Titanic, because you won’t be able to stop. Any Titanic buff pretty much has to read this one, and even casual reader will want to grab this book. It’s powerful writing, and memorable reading.

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