Vintage £9.99 (325pp) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Country Formerly Known As Great Britain, By Ian Jack
Friday 07 January 2011
This book is a powerful argument for the resuscitation of an all but dead journalistic genre: the long feature. "Women and Children First", Jack's exploration of a detail of the Titanic disaster, runs to 27 pages and you would not want it a word shorter.
It concerns Wallace Hartley, the Titanic bandmaster, and whether he played "Nearer My God to Thee" as the ship went down or a pop song of the time.
Jack reaches no firm conclusion, but his investigation is revealing and moving, particularly in his discovery that only 8 per cent of male second-class passengers survived, despite having "early and easy access to the boat deck".
It is hard, he concludes, "to dismiss the thought that... they behaved differently then."
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