Did hubris doom the Titanic? How about simple human error when an iceberg loomed dead ahead? Or maybe the iceberg deserves all the blame.
Tim Maltin, a British author, has another theory. In the new Smithsonian Channel documentary "Titanic's Final Mystery" (aka "Titanic: Case Closed" in other countries), Maltin concludes that the natural world conspired against the ship.
"The Titanic was very much in a killing zone of nature due to atmospheric conditions," he said. "A mirage, high pressure and darkness just came together."
The result: The Titanic's lookout didn't see the iceberg in time, and a nearby ship failed to come to the rescue.
Maltin didn't reach his conclusion on his own. He got plenty of help from those who were there, thanks to the words they'd subsequently write in books, articles and letters. He's compiled several of their tales in the new book "Titanic, First Accounts."
In an interview on the eve of the anniversary of the Titanic's sinking, Maltin talked about what we can learn by listening directly to those who witnessed horror and heroism on a frigid night a century ago.
Q: Lawrence Beesley, a British science teacher and Christian Scientist, wrote about the last moments of the Titanic later in 1912. What did you learn from Beesley's account?
A: He's analytical about everything since he's a scientist, and he's so accurate and unbiased. He thinks the best thing he can do is wait to be saved, use logic and be part of the universe.
He gives a very accurate description of seemingly unimportant details which are so important now. They gave me a lot of clues about the atmospheric conditions.
He could see the Californian [a potential rescue ship] in the distance, and he says, "Gosh, how could that ship just have ignored our distress signals when she's so close? But we mustn't judge now, we must wait."
What we've discovered is the evidence that Lawrence Beesley has been waiting for for 100 years, that the Titanic sinking was caused by the universe.
It wasn't really simply human error. It was very much a killing zone of nature due to atmospheric conditions – extreme high pressure and no moon, calm waters, and most importantly, this thing called a thermal inversion.
A mirage, high pressure and darkness just came together.
Q: You write that many of the survivors talk about what they saw but not what they felt. From the perspective of our Oprah-ized time, that seems a bit odd. Do you think people were simply less likely to talk about their feelings back then?
A: It was the culture of the time. But you can still tell what people thought by what they did.
Look at Helen Churchill Candee. She's a first-class passenger carrying her most treasured possession, a miniature portrait of her mother. She stops on the stairs and sees a man friend of hers, and she gives him this most precious thing in the world. She says, look after this for me.
This tells you that she believed the Titanic wasn't going to sink, that she thought getting into a lifeboat would be dangerous and all the men would be much safer on the ship.
She was rescued. The man's body was found in the sea, and the locket was in his pocket. She was able to get the locket back.
Q: What do you think people misunderstand about the Titanic story?
What really strikes me is how similar they were to us deep down. They were absolutely the same as us. That's what gives us the Titanic its power. It's not a black-and-white story about people who were different than us. It's a full-color story about people who are the same as us.
They were getting divorced, having affairs. There were a pair of boys who'd been kidnapped by their father. There were con men, card sharks, people traveling under assumed names.
On the other hand, they were brave and caring.
It's very easy to look at the Titanic and say they were very bigoted, that they lived in a stratified, unfair society. But they were good like us as well, and the discrimination between the classes was not what people make it out today.
However, they did have much more confidence than we do, much more confidence in themselves that their way was the right way. They were very much empire builders, and they believed their technology would overcome everything.
It was a world where things made sense, where everything seemed to be on a straight-line curve to getting better.
Maltin writes more extensively about his Titanic theories in a new e-book called "Titanic: A Very Deceiving Night." He's also the author of "101 Things You Thought You Knew About the Titanic... But Didn't."
For more on the Titanic, read my recent review of three new Titanic books and check out my look at five extraordinary survivors. And last year, I interviewed author Frances Wilson about her new book "How to Survive the Titanic, or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay."
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
More than 1.5 million pages of text will be made available, including 15th-century writings, Hebrew text, and works from the Greeks, including writings by Plato, Sophocles, Homer, and Hippocrates. Other works will be “De Europa” by Pope Pius II Piccolomini and the 42-line Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg, believed to be the first text ever printed.
The project was made possible through a grant of $3.2 million from the Polonsky Foundation.
“Transforming these ancient texts and images into digital form helps transcend the limitations of time and space, which have in the past restricted access to knowledge,” Bodley librarian Sarah Thomas told the BBC.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
According to her publisher, the title of J.K. Rowling’s book for adults will be “The Casual Vacancy.”
“The Casual Vacancy,” which will be released on Sept. 27, will revolve around the sudden death of a parish council member in the British town of Pagford.
“Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey,” reads the statement from Rowling’s publisher Little, Brown. “But what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils.”
An election for the new parish council seat will lead to deception and surprises, according to the publisher.
“The Casual Vacancy” will be released in e-book form and audio and CD downloads as well as print.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Packaged enough like a children’s book that an unwary parent could be taken by surprise, author Adam Mansbach’s book “Go the F--- to Sleep” became a bestseller when it was published last June. And now there’s a children’s version, with a more kid-friendly title of “Seriously, Just Go To Sleep.”
The kids’ version of the title is now available in stores.
When the original book was released last summer, some parents loved it, while others were offended by the picture book that chronicles the struggle of a parent to put his child to bed. Mansbach told The Los Angeles Times that he was inspired to write “Go the F--- to Sleep” after experiencing the long process of putting his daughter to bed.
“Her eyes would be closed, and I'd try to sneak out of the room too early,” he said. “And then I'd wake the kid up and spend another hour in there. She'd ask, 'Where are you going?' and then I was back to square one.”
The new version of the title was also inspired by Mansbach’s daughter, who realized she was the one being talked about in the original “Go the F--- to Sleep” and loved it. Mansbach decided to edit out all controversial language and allow kids in on the joke.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
I’ve read all the books. I've seen all the movies. (And yes, you might have seen me at a number of midnight showings.) I've also been known to spend time with equally fanatic friends debating whether butterbeer actually has alcohol in it and trying to remember the name of Ginny’s Weasley's Pygmy Puff. (It’s Arnold). So it’s probably a given that I’d be predisposed to love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park.
But guess what – I'm just back from a four-day trip to Orlando and I have to tell you that it's even better than I thought.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened as part of the Islands of Adventure theme park located at Universal Studios Florida. First opening its Hogsmeade gates in 2010, it’s been mostly well-received by travel writers and Potter fans alike. A California equivalent, located at Universal Studios Hollywood, is scheduled to open sometime between 2014 and 2016.
The park itself is created to look like the village of Hogsmeade, a small area located near Harry’s school, Hogwarts, where magic students can go on the weekends to shop and socialize once they’ve reached their third year. Some of the most memorable scenes in the village take place during the winter, and this Florida version of Hogsmeade is built as if you stumbled upon it in January, with snow-covered roofs that glisten in the sunlight and smoke streaming from chimneys as if the building’s inhabitants were huddled around a fire.
Visitors to the Wizarding World walk through tall gray gates to enter the village of Hogsmeade and are greeted by the Hogwarts Express, the red train students use to get to school. To the left, there's a row of shops. Memorable locations from the books include Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes, a candy shop, with products fans will recognize from the books, items like Fanged Frisbees. (These were forbidden to Hogwarts students, of course, by crotchety caretaker Argus Filch).
Other Hogsmeade stores include Gladrags Wizardwear and Dervish and Banges, which, among other things, sells Quidditch equipment. The window shops are all enticing. In one, a replica of Hermione’s beautiful dress that she wears to the school formal, the Yule Ball, is on display. Another features a shrieking mandrake, a plant that resembles a crying baby that Harry and his friends are forced to tend in Harry Potter Book No. 2. There are also portraits of Gilderoy Lockhart (as he is in the second movie, played by Kenneth Branagh) in another window, looking self-satisfied as always.
A welcome open area on the right is shaded by a large overhang and supplied with benches so younger kids, the elderly or anyone who just needs a break from the Florida heat can take a seat for a breather. While sitting, you can admire the Owl Post area, where you can actually send letters if you want to gloat to friends back home. If you stand outside, you can hear angry parents berating their children, including a dad who’s angry about a low grade on an exam, in a nod to the Howler letters Hogwarts children receive in the books when a parent is especially angry. The bright red envelopes, when opened, release the loud voice of a parent shouting at a child, loud enough for the entire school to hear.
Before long, you’re bound to notice two lines. The one stretching down the middle of the Hogsmeade avenue, leading towards a small wooden cart, is for butterbeer, the Potter drink described in the books as indescribably delicious. The park equivalent comes in two varieties, regular, which is likened by those in the know to cream soda, and frozen. However, if you head over to the Three Broomsticks restaurant, the main eating establishment in the Potter park, you can get both butterbeer and pumpkin juice, another popular beverage with visitors.
For me, the line was a little long for the butterbeer and timing didn’t work out for a meal at the Three Broomsticks, but the restaurant has traditional British fare in keeping with Harry Potter’s origins. Some may love it, while others may be a little leery. However, one of my favorite landmarks was located right near the restaurant – an animated "Have you seen this wizard?" poster, which was hung in Hogsmeade in Harry Potter Book No. 3. Like the fictional version, the Universal poster features then-fugitive criminal Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) laughing maniacally just above instructions to notify Ministry of Magic officials if you happen to spot him.
The other line – besides the one for butterbeer – is people waiting for the privilege of entering Ollivanders Wand Shop, and unless the line is prohibitively long and you really can’t take the time, it’s worth the wait. (Yes, die-hards, in the books, Ollivanders isn’t located in Hogsmeade. According to park lore, this is a separate shop, a spin-off within the Ollivanders franchise.) The line moves slowly because inside the shop, which sells wands to Hogwarts students, a wandkeeper performs a show for 20 visitors at a time, picking a lucky visitor to try out wands just as Harry does during his visit. While I can’t speak for any substitutes, the wandkeeper I saw was phenomenal, with dramatic pauses and a kindly smile that invited the rest of the audience to share in the magic.
Are you a ride daredevil? Then you have three to choose from within the Wizarding World, the tamest of which is Flight of the Hippogriff, a smaller roller coaster based on a winged creature that Harry rides during the course of the novels. A plus with this one is that you get to see the cabin that serves as the home of Hagrid, the school’s gamekeeper. Flight of the Hippogriff is the tamest of the Potter attractions, but it does take some dips so beware if you really can’t stand any sort of roller coaster motions.
If you’re ready for a step up, the big roller coaster on the premises is the Dragon Challenge, modeled after a challenge Harry and other students must complete in Book No. 4, when they each have to retrieve an egg from beneath a very protective mother dragon. The ride consists of two coasters named after two of the dragons in the book, the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail, and the path leading up to the coasters sports cool details like signs with slogans supporting Harry and his fellow contestants. Near the end, coaster riders actually walk through a tent designed to look like the one in which Harry and the other three participants wait before facing their dragon. The Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail are both good, but for my money, if you only have time for one, go for the Horntail – it has more twists and upside-down loops (if you like that sort of thing).
The flagship attraction is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, located inside Hogwarts Castle – and yes, you get to go in. Hogwarts looms above Hogsmeade as you walk through the village towards the school, and the line for the Forbidden Journey ride begins outside the school gates, winding through a separate queue area before going through the gates, up through greenhouses (used in the books for Herbology classes), and finally into the castle. The wait for this ride can stretch to hours, but if you’re a Potter fan, you’re apt to forget it once you’re inside the castle.
The line takes you through rooms such as a hallway where talking portraits of the four Hogwarts founders debate recent events; Harry’s dorm, Gryffindor Tower, complete with the talking portrait that lets students inside; and Dumbledore’s office, where the head wizard himself (played by Michael Gambon) has a message for you. A highlight is the History of Magic classroom, where the heroes Harry, Ron, and Hermione arrive to bust you out of a boring lesson. Try not to catch your breath when Ron, who sometimes has trouble with spells, accidentally makes it snow and flakes appear in front of you.
The premise of the Forbidden Journey ride is that you, a very special group of Muggles (non-magic users), have been invited into the castle to experience Hogwarts life firsthand, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are determined to show you a good time. But the usual menaces lurk, including Dementors, ghostly hooded apparitions who menace Harry and feed on bad memories, and a dragon which Hagrid seems to have misplaced.
The ride is spectacular, using a combination of screens and actual props to convey the feeling to riders that what they’re experiencing is completely real – you’d swear your feet are about to skim the surface of the lake over which you’re flying. In the ride, you sit four to a vehicle in chairs facing forward that swing wildly in various directions to take you in and out of scenes and convey you through adventures, from the fun – flying with Harry through a Quidditch game – to the scary. I mentioned those Dementors, right?
Riders must be 48 inches tall, and maybe I’m just a wimp about this kind of thing, but if you’re a parent, check the ride out before going on with your child. I saw kids who just made the four-foot cut who loved the ride and appeared completely unfazed, but a scary section in the middle of the ride takes you from a face-to-face encounter with the dragon – who’s big and breathes fire at you – to a trip into the lair of the giant spiders from “Chamber of Secrets” to an up-close meeting with those dementors, who breathe creepily and appear determined to make you their latest victim – until Harry arrives, of course.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
You’re a teenager writing a novella or poem. You dot that last "i," cross the final "t" – and then what?
Some middle and high schools have creative writing classes, but not all of them. And as any writer knows, feedback is key to improving a manuscript.
So writer Dana Goodyear and Jeff Lewis, managing editor of former business magazine Portfolio, founded Figment, a writing site for teens and young adults to post their writing and receive feedback. Created in December 2010, it’s been skyrocketing in popularity, with more than 200,000 users currently registered. Last December, the site published its first print book, titled “Dream School” by Blake Nelson.
Most users are between 13 and 17, according to site data, but some skew a little older. Users can form groups on the website, and some are apparently created at the behest of teachers for a class, with titles like “Mrs. Klopp’s Second Period Poets.” Other groups have specific interests, like one created for those who want to participate in an online role-playing wolf game.
There are also contests on the site. One, for instance, asks users to write a chapter (based on the book “Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers) about a character who is lying about his or her identity. And of course there are forums which are divided into sections like “Fanfiction,” “Writing scraps” (for works which have a plot but no characters), and “Full-length stories.” Other forums aren’t strictly about writing but more for general discussion, like “From Gaga to Godfather,” which encourages users to talk about pop culture. And then there's also an aptly named “General/random” forum.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Lauren Oliver, bestselling author of the young adult "Delirium" series, will publish a book for adults in the fall of 2014.
Oliver’s "Delirium" trilogy centers on a futuristic society where the government “cures” people when they turn 18 so they don’t fall in love. In the series, two teenagers, Lena and Alex, find themselves unexpectedly defying society’s rules. The third and final novel in the series, “Requiem,” is due to be released in 2013.
Oliver's adult book is titled “Rooms,” according to the publisher Ecco, which is an imprint of HarperCollins.
“[It was] as instantly gripping as it was elegantly written,” the book’s editor, Lee Boudreaux, told the New York Times of reading “Rooms” for the first time.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
There were 326 instances of books challenges that were sent to the American Library Association in 2011, according to the ALA. The association releases a list each year of the books that received the most objections over the past year, and while there are some newcomers to this year's list, many of the top 10 for 2011 are frequent offenders.
The “ttyl” series by Lauren Myracle, author of “Shine,” earned the number one spot on the list for 2011. While it escaped the top ten rankings entirely for the 2010 list, the series, which follows three high school girls via their online instant messages, snagged the number one spot in 2009 and was number three in 2008. The books were challenged for sexually explicit content and offensive language, among other charges.
The second most frequently banned books, however, were "The Color of Earth" series by Kim Dong Hwa, a newcomer to the ALA top ten list. “Color” is the story of the daughter of a single mother living in Korea who runs a tavern. The books ran afoul of parents and teachers because of nudity (the books are graphic novels) and sex education depicted in the series as well as other complaints.
Another familiar title in the 2011 list was the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, which was number three this year and came in at number five last year. It was challenged for violence and sexual content. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, which was number two last year and was cited for offensive language, racism, and its religious views, was ranked number five in 2011. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, which landed the seventh spot this year and was number three in 2010, was challenged due to nudity, racism, and sexually explicit content, among other charges.
A newcomer was “My Mom’s Having A Baby!” by Dori Hillestad Butler, which came in at number four for the 2011 most-challenged list but had not made the rankings before, despite being published in 2005. The book is written for younger children who have a parent who is expecting a child, but according to the ALA, teachers and parents complained about the book’s nudity and sexual content.
Other titles that made the 2011 top ten list included the "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, which follow the adventures of a young girl through her senior year of high school. The books were challenged due to nudity and offensive language, among other problems. The "Alice" books last made the list in 2006. “What My Mother Doesn’t Know,” by Sonya Sones, a novel about a female high school freshman told through poetry, was also number seven on the list last year. The "Gossip Girl" series by Cecily Von Ziegesar, which has also made the list in past years, was ranked number nine for 2011, and “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, which was ranked number four in 2009, came in at number ten for this year.
This was the first year the illustrated book “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, a children’s book about two male penguins who raise a baby, did not make the ALA list since its publication in 2005. Last year, “Tango” ranked as the number one most challenged book, and it was the second-most challenged in 2009.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
It’s a sad day for indie bookstores and a sign of more consolidation in the publishing world.
Reports emerged this week that Google contacted the American Booksellers Association and Powell’s Books to announce that it is ending its Google eBooks reseller program as of January 31, 2013. The program gave independent bookstores a leg up by allowing them to sell e-books through Google’s platform. With the cancellation of that program, lauded by indie supporters across the world, Google Play will be the only platform through which consumers can buy e-books through Google.
Google explained its decision in a post on its blog: “With the launch of Google eBooks in 2010, we introduced a multi-faceted approach to selling ebooks: online, on devices, through affiliates and through resellers. One part of that effort – the reseller program – has not gained the traction that we hoped it would, so we have made the difficult decision to discontinue it by the end of January next year.”
CEO of the ABA Oren Teicher sent a letter to members Thursday morning notifying them of the cancellation. “To the say the least, we are very disappointed in Google’s decision,” he wrote, “but we have every confidence that long before Google’s reseller program is discontinued, ABA will be able to offer IndieCommerce users a new alternative e-book product, or choice of products.”
“Google Play seems to be Google’s bid at centralizing all of their services into one place to better compete with Apple’s iTunes marketplace. Providing eBooks from one location, instead of many, would help to decrease confusion over eBook sources,” writes WebProNews writer Zach Walton.
The move certainly makes sense for Google, but it leaves consumers with fewer choices and indie bookstores with less leverage. Of course, Google must tread carefully as it tries to compete with the likes of Amazon and Apple as it moves into this market lest it lose goodwill. What it needs to avoid are comments like these, posted on Publisher’s Weekly, in response to Thursday’s news:
“Google is becoming just as overbearing as Amazon. This is a real disappointment to those of us who like to support independent bookstores when buying e-books.”
“What I find sad about this is that I remember when Google started and they were positioning themselves as cool, hip, and independent. They have definitely lost that and become just another fat cat like Microsoft and Amazon.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Nearly a year after a 60 Minutes investigation charged “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson fabricated some of the accounts in his beloved bestseller and that his charity mishandled donations, news emerged this week that a Montana Attorney General’s office investigation found significant mismanagement of funds at the author’s nonprofit and ordered Mr. Mortenson to reimburse his charity more than $1 million.
According to the investigative report, Mortenson spent millions of dollars in charity money on personal items, family vacations, and charter flights. His charity, the Central Asia Institute, was founded to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mortenson “had significant lapses in judgment resulting in money donated to CAI being spent on personal items such as charter flights for family vacations, clothing, and internet downloads,” Montana State Attorney General Steve Bullock said in an announcement Thursday, as reported by CBS News.
Mortenson’s haphazard control of the charity went largely unchallenged by CAI’s board of directors, which consisted of Mortenson and two people loyal to him, according to the investigative report.
“The result was a lack of financial accountability in which large amounts of cash sent overseas were never accounted for,” reports the AP. “Itemized expenses listed as program-related were missing supporting receipts and documentation. Employees and family members charged items such as health club dues and gifts to CAI credit cards.”
Among the financial mismanagement: Mortenson bought thousands of copies of his books, “Three Cups of Tea,” and “Stones into Schools,” from $3.96 million worth of charity money, reaping royalties that he kept for himself.
The report also found the CAI spent $4.93 million on advertising and promoting Mortenson’s books, a figure that was supposed to be split between the CAI and Mortenson, but never was.
The CAI also paid $2 million in charter flights for Mortenson’s speaking engagements until 2011. The report stated that Mortenson and his family charged $75,276 worth of personal items to the CAI between 2009 and 2010, including “LL Bean clothing, iTunes, luggage, luxurious accommodations and even vacations.”
Thanks to an April 2011 “60 Minutes” report that alleged Mortenson fabricated parts of his memoir and benefited financially from the charity, Montana’s attorney general began a yearlong probe into the CAI. The investigation found Mortenson’s oversight of the CAI grossly negligent and ordered a series of changes.
According to the CAI – which has published a response "respectfully disagree[ing] with some of the analysis and conclusions in the OAG’s report" – Mortenson voluntarily resigned from his position as the CAI’s executive director in November. [This article originally stated that the OAG removed Mortenson from the office.] He will also be barred from voting on the CAI’s board or holding any position of financial oversight, though he may remain an employee there, according to the terms of the settlement.
Mortenson must also reimburse the CAI $1.05 million, nearly half of which (some $495,000) has already been paid, according to the AP.
It’s a big fall for the bestselling author and until recently, respected philanthropist, whose account of his unsuccessful attempt to climb K2 in South Asia and subsequent experience with an impoverished village in Pakistan inspired him to build schools and other projects in the region.
Though the news is likely to upset Mortenson’s fans and disappoint his investors, they can take some comfort in this statement by Attorney General Bullock.
"Mortenson's pursuits are noble and his achievements are important. However, serious internal problems in the management of CAI surfaced," Attorney General Steve Bullock said in the report. "Despite the severity of their errors, CAI is worth saving."
We hope the CAI can be rehabilitated because far more than the reputation of one man is at stake.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.