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Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic (Hardback)

Superstars and Scapegoats

Maritime > Titanic P&S History > British History P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Anthony Nicholas
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9781399086004
Published: 6th May 2022



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Titanic. The Marilyn Monroe of ocean liners. A sleek, sultry beauty, taken out way before her time. A kind of 21st century Flying Dutchman, with interiors by Cesar Ritz, still striving to achieve the waters of a port she can never reach.

Fuelled by a subtle mixture of horror, fascination and sheer, fatal glamour, she surges heedlessly across the still, starlit calm of our collective subconscious, hell bent on achieving her chilling, near midnight rendezvous with her killer.

Titanic is a brilliantly lit stage, carrying her cast of exotic, terminally endangered extras toward an abyss at once both unfathomable and inconceivable.

Here’s where any similarity with any other tome about the Titanic ends.

For the first time ever, a succession of key characters and groups of individuals come to the fore. Centre stage, over seventeen chapters, we meet the men whose decisions, actions and omissions combined like some slow burning powder trail to trigger a final, cataclysmic conclusion; the foundering, in mid Atlantic, of the biggest moving object ever seen on the face of the planet.

One by one, a series of individuals take a bow. Seemingly omnipotent owners and hugely experienced ship’s officers. Engineers and designers. Would be rescuers and embattled wireless operators.

We meet them as individuals, not supermen. Their histories, backgrounds and life experiences are assessed for the first time ever, putting their actions on the night that Titanic sank into a context, a light as stark as that of the distress rockets, arcing into the sky…

As featured in

Ships Monthly - July 2023

In my view if you want to read any book about Titanic this should be it.

5 out of 5

Read the Full Review Here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I decided in 2022 to focus some of my non-fiction reading on Titanic with it being the 110th year since it sunk and it was also the year that we visited the Titanic Exhibition in Devon and got to see some of the objects that had been brought up from the bottom of the Ocean.

I am a huge fan of the mystery and majesty of the Titanic as it is and I will admit that I have watched a lot of documentaries on it and read a lot of books too but something about this book caught my eye and I knew that I wanted to read it and find out more.

I thought that the book was well written and I liked the layout, the chapter length and the author’s writing style. It was a book that covered things I knew before and new to which make it a great one to read.

The mix of characters was great and it was good to get a different view from a new author to me and I loved the approach that the author took – what would you have done if you were them – very good and definitely one to make you think it also shows how much things can be twisted and spun overtime with the media, etc too. Even back then over 110 years ago they were twisting the stories told to sell the papers which did ruin the careers of some involved when the decision and accident was nothing they could have prevented.

It is 4.5 stars from me for this one, rounded up to 5 stars for Goodreads and Amazon – a must read for Titanic fans out there, always good to get a new perspective too – highly recommended!

NetGalley, Donna Maguire

Written with all the dramatic flair of a finely penned novel, "Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats" is a massively impressive work of meticulous historical research. Fascinating and informative, "Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats" is highly recommended for community, college, and university library 20th Century Maritime History collections.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic is a great read for anyone fascinated by the disaster. Nicholas tells the story of people aboard the doomed cruiser who we don't usually hear about. The book sets out to honour those lost at sea in 1912, and it definitely does that. It's an interesting and accessible read. Very good!

NetGalley, James Doyle

As featured in the article: 'Facsinating insight into the last days of a hero'

Nelson Leader

As featured in 'This month's Literary Delights'

Lancashire and North West Magazine

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is great very informative I've read alot about titanic and the people caught up in that night this book is an ideal companion along side other books as it goes into far more details than most as the author is only writing about the people not the boat. He has lifted some assumptions and myths regarding key figures but as I hate reviewers who write spoilers I won't be doing that, if you enjoy reading about the titanic and the people this book will be a useful addition you can dip in and out which I like and there is some new information as well I would recommend to anyone even if your sick of the word titanic the book may appeal to you if you like reading about that era or reading about people living through one of the worst nights of their lives.

NetGalley, Karen Lewis

This book to me is about the writing and the stories of those involved in the events that happened that fateful night in 1912. We all know that the Titanic was one of the biggest cruise liners in the world and through a number of mistakes, it would hit an iceberg and would slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean. As I said firstly was the excellent writing by the author Anthony Nicholas, the book is split into 17 chapters but each one looks at a figure in the building, commissioning and working on the liner. Some of the figures and stories you have a lot less sympathy for and some of them show a great deal of fortitude and bravery. But the writing conveyed by the author is great and really had me engrossed in the book which I spent a long evening reading. I would definitely recommend this book to others for its great detail and writing.

Read the full review here

The History Fella

This was a very informative read about the workers on the Titanic who sacrificed their lives to save others! This was a very enlightening to read about these men whom I have never heard of! Bravo!

NetGalley, Lauralee Jacks

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A great book containing short stories of the unsung heroes from the Titanic disaster. The stories are compelling and sure to grab your attention. The courage displayed and sacrifices made by the individuals are inspirational and heartwarming. A great read on the disaster.

NetGalley, Ron Baumer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book was amazing!!! Anthony Nicholas did a fabulous job, and once again, those who perished on the Titanic are brought to life through the pages of a book.

We learn more about the crew, and their heroic efforts to save as many as possible, mistakes that were made, and the band that played as the ship slipped beneath the waves. It is in many ways a profound read that is going to take readers back in time, with a fascinating look on those who were on board, rather than the sinking of the vessel itself.

Highly recommend this book!

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Just when you think that all of the angles for the Titanic story have been covered, appears an excellent book like this that really brings home the human cost of the lost luxury liner. Titanic fans will love this one.

NetGalley, Mike Michelsen

This is a beautifully written vivid and empathetic account of the unbelievable bravery of most of the crew on the Titanic, who the author compares with Spartans. He puts himself into their shoes and tries to imagine how they must have felt as the 'unsinkable' ship quickly began to sink. There is the band who bravely played the music of the day to soothe the passengers while chaos raged around them, the radio operators who desperately tried to contact nearby ships as the lights sputtered and flickered, the ship's officers who had to put people into the lifeboats and cope with surging crowds, the stewards and stewardesses and many others.

Nicholas doesn't shy away from the controversial characters like J. Bruce Ismay and Captain Smith, but deals with them compassionately. He understandably hammers the mean Blacks, the agency responsible for treating the band and the band members' families abominably, but they're about the only ones who he criticises severely. This is a must-read for anyone interested in this fascinating, doomed ship.

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book by Anthony Nicholas. It was very well done and would definitely recommend this book to anyone.

NetGalley, Sarah Pesnell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I have read innumerable books on the Titanic. Just as it does so many others, the tragic story fascinates me. I can honestly say this book is quite different from most of the others I have read. It states the facts just as they all do but rather than put all the emphasis on a couple of the main characters and then either deifying or denouncing them, it attempts, by trying to imagine what it would have been like had the author been in the shoes of that person, to give a reasoned accounting.. It is eloquent and evocative and educational. But above all else, it is fair.

There are very few people or organizations that are pilloried. Even the most popular villain in most, Ismay, is treated with equanimity. He is not let off the hook for the decisions made prior to the sailing that guaranteed a disaster. White Star itself is also called to task as were the bureaucrats whose job it was to ensure that things were done as they should be. Perhaps the only group universally condemned was the agency that bought the musicians contracts from White Star and in a series of events proved to be unfeeling cads.

It compares the crew to Spartans. Once the iceberg hit, none of them had any delusion of what the final outcome would be. Too few lifeboats and too many passengers and crew put paid to that account. Yet, knowing the end, they laboured bravely to do what they could to save as many as possible, often at the cost of their own lives. Most responded admirably. The only one who fell apart was Smith. And it was he who could have orchestrated a much larger number of survivors but could not solve the simple mathematical problem. But even his breakdown was handled compassionately. His experience and his hubris all worked against him and when the unthinkable happened, he shattered.

Beautifully written and extremely compelling, I give this five glowing stars and two paws up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

Overall the book is well written, extremely well researched and the author clearly knows and loves his subject. I would also recommend it to anyone interested in the Titanic.

NetGalley, Anna Champion

"It occurred to me that even the most famous 'extras' in the cast of this story have long since been massively eclipsed by the main actress in the drama; the Titanic herself."

Many books have been written about the ship herself but Anthony Nicholas decided to shine a light on actual people who were there. We get a deep dive into life stories of the famous protagonists and antagonists of the tragedy but also of some people that don't necessarily cross people's minds when Titanic gets mentioned (Violet Jessop or Wallace Hartley for example).
I like how detailed the author got with these people's stories because we now get a different perspective on say Captain Smith, Thomas Andrews, Bruce Ismay, even the officers and the musicians. They all had their backgrounds and lives outside of the ship and outside of that doomed night of the sinking and the author did a good job researching and providing us with information.

NetGalley, Ajla Gobeljic

I am obsessed with everything to do with Titanic and her story and this book just added to my interest. I found this fascinating and there were some characters included in here I knew nothing about as well as learning more about some of the well known passengers and staff. This is a fascinating read and it’s nice to focus on the people rather than the incident for a change.

NetGalley, Lindsay Adams-Riley

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I like the way Mr. Nicholas brought in the Olympians, Titans and Spartans into the story. Interesting parallels that I had not previously considered.

This book is the story of the unsung heroes, if you will, of the Titanic. Those who are often overlooked and not mentioned at all in the wake of millionaires and other notable personages aboard the doomed liner. Well aware that there were not sufficient lifeboats for all aboard, they continued to serve and do their jobs.

There were 2,207 passengers and crew on the Titanic and room in lifeboats for just 1,178…

Captain Edward Smith and Joseph Bell saw their task as one of stalling the sinking for as long as possible, provide electricity for the wireless pleas for help, and quell panic.

Chief Engineer Joseph Bell had sixteen officers below him. Nicholas states that Bell found himself in the same hopeless situation as the famous Spartans of “300” legend. They were facing insurmountable odds and it would be a miracle if any of them survived the night of April 14 - 15, 1912.

The author also pays tribute to other forgotten individuals such as the stewardesses, the postal clerks, the lift operators, Wallace Hartley and his fellow band members and the wireless men Jack Phillips and Harold Bride. People who did their jobs and went unnoticed aboard the ship.
The book would certainly not be complete without the story of Thomas Andrews. He was an affable perfectionist who would be in charge of the Guarantee Group. These ten men were chosen for their hard work in building the ship. None of these men would survive.

The author also tells the stories of Second Officer Charles Lightoller and his co-worker First Officer Bill Murdoch. They were the men with the unenviable job of loading and lowering the lifeboats.

And then there is J. Bruce Ismay, owner of the White Star Line. He “miraculously” escaped the sinking by stepping into the last lifeboat to be lowered from the Titanic. His choosing to leave the ship branded him as a “coward.” It was thought that he should have gone down with the ship such as men like Captain Smith, Thomas Andrews and over a thousand other individuals did. This caused his vilification through the end of his life beyond and even still today.

And finally, Mr. Nicholas gave an approving nod to Captain Arthur Rostron and Marconi operator Harold Cottam of the Carpathia.

This book is well written. Mr. Nicholas uses a conversational style, not at all dry or dense. He includes the background of many of the individuals about which he speaks. He makes learning about these people interesting, the reader gets the sense that they almost know them. I could see myself walking the decks of the ship, witnessing firsthand the goings on aboard the doomed liner. The courage and dedication to duty of all of the individuals introduced were heartwarming. There are some great pictures and a bibliography for those who would like to further explore the subject. I enjoyed the book very much and look forward to reading more of Mr. Nicholas’ books.

NetGalley, Joyce Fox

Really interesting non-fiction book about some of the Key Figures of the RMS Titanic. I am obsessed with the Titanic and I love everything about it so I was super excited to have my wish granted on this one.

I would really love to see the hardcover book as I think it would be presented in a really lovely fashion. I loved the prologue and the comparison of the Titanic to the battle of Sparta.

What a beauty of a ship and what an interesting dive into some of the people and groups that were key to the stories behind that fateful night.

NetGalley, Karly O’Neill

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

We’ve all heard the story of the RMS Titanic and her sinking. Anyone interested in the ship has memorized the names of her crew and passengers. Until now, the life stories of the people responsible have not been written in one volume of a book. Short biographies were included in some books but if you wanted to learn more, you had to research on your own. Anthony Nichols has.gathered information on each of the men responsible for Titanic from when she was just a thought until the night she slipped under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. These are beautifully written accounts of the lives of J.P. Morgan, Bruce Ismay, Captain Smith, the wireless operators and so on. This book will be one I will reread and keep on hand for reference. Such a wonderful read for all Titanic buffs.

NetGalley, Stacey Bradley

The book is written from the interesting viewpoint of the people on board as opposed to the vessel. This it does very well. There were many heroes on that fateful night, many of them crew members. The book brings to light so many simple acts of valour performed by ordinary men and women. These were regular people who at that moment acted heroically in the face of adversity.

NetGalley, Steve Cripwell

About Anthony Nicholas

Anthony Nicholas has been writing about cruise ships, ocean liners and sea travel for some thirty years. His work has featured in newspapers such as The Times, The Independent, The Mirror and The Scotsman, as well as magazines such as Ships Monthly and World of Cruising.
To date, he has made more than two hundred ocean cruises, river cruises, and transatlantic crossings. These have taken in destinations from Copenhagen to Curacao, and Tromso to Tahiti.
Over the course of these, an almost inevitable fascination with the Titanic gradually surfaced. Over four decades, he tracked the saga of the great, lost leviathan, and those whose fates became enmeshed with her sad story.
This book is the result of those decades of considered reflection, tempered with a desire to flesh out certain, long held perceptions with an even handed sense of perspective. The intention of the author was to create a kind of ‘immersive engagement’ experience for the reader; to make them consider this most sensational of stories in a way that they might not, perhaps, have done before.
Anthony Nicholas is also a keen fan of medieval and more contemporary military history, as well as modern, popular mainstream music of the Sixties and Seventies. In time, his stated ambition is to compose a series of travel volumes from past trips. To date, these have spanned four full decades, and covered over half a million miles, encompassing an area from the Arctic to the Amazon.
The travel bug remains a terminal condition to this day….

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