Synopses & Reviews
"Biel's masterful cultural analysis of the Titanic disaster is brimming over with wit and insight". -- Dan Rather
"The R.M.S. Titanic . . . still generates headlines", observed John Updike in an October 1996 New Yorker. Two months later Time magazine noted "a new storm of Titanic mania", and Newsweek an "outbreak of Titanic fever". The New York Times called it "the ship that won't stay sunk".
In Down with the Old Canoe, Steven Biel offers a provocative cultural history of what may be America's most popular disaster. He explains how people of every stripe found ammunition in the Titanic -- suffragists and their opponents; radicals, reformers, and capitalists; critics of technology and modern life; racists and xenophobes and champions of racial and ethnic equality; editorial writers and folk singers, preachers and poets -- and he maps the ship's changing significance from past to present. "Dr. Biel expertly sifts the shifting interpretations of successive generations", says Dan Rather. "Down with the Old Canoe marks the emergence of a major talent in history writing".
"Endlessly fascinating". -- Boston Globe
"(Biel) shows -- with style and wit, as well as scholarship -- how the sinking of a ship nearly a century ago resonates through popular culture today". -- Orlando Sentinel
"I suggest, henceforth, when a woman talks women's rights, she be answered with the word Titanic, nothing more--just Titanic," wrote a St. Louis man to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was not alone in mining the ship for a metaphor. Everyone found ammunition in the --suffragists and their opponents; radicals, reformers, and capitalists; critics of technology and modern life; racists and xenophobes and champions of racial and ethnic equality; editorial writers and folk singers, preachers and poets. Protestant sermons used the to condemn the budding consumer society ("We know the end of . . . the undisturbed sensualists. As they sail the sea of life we know absolutely that their ship will meet disaster."). African American toasts and working-class ballads made the ship emblematic of the foolishness of white people and the greed of the rich. A 1950s revival framed the disaster as an "older kind of disaster in which people had time to die." An ever-increasing number of buffs find heroism and order in the tale. Still in the headlines ("Titanic Baby Found Alive!" the declares) and a figure of everyday speech ("rearranging deck chairs . . ."), the disaster echoes within a richly diverse, paradoxical, and fascinating America.
An immensely readable, provocative, and entertaining exploration of the Titanic as cultural icon.
About the Author
Steven Biel is the executive director of the Mahindra Humanities Center and a senior lecturer on history and literature at Harvard University.