53 pages 1 hour read

Walter Lord

A Night to Remember

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 1955

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


A Night to Remember, written by Walter Lord and published by William Morrow in 1955, is considered the definitive minute-by-minute account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, which plummeted to the bottom of the ocean just under two hours after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic at 11:40pm on April 14, 1912. In the decades since A Night to Remember was published, ongoing research—including the discovery of the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985—has clarified many of the facts presented in the text, but A Night to Remember stands the test of time, offering a vivid, narrative-style popular history account of one of the most significant disasters in maritime history. Lord wrote and published a sequel, The Night Lives On: The Night Lives On: New Thoughts, Theories, and Revelations About the Titanic (1987), re-released in 2012 as The Night Lives On: The Untold Stories & Secrets Behind the Sinking of the “Unsinkable Ship”—Titanic. Collectively, the pair of nonfiction works is known as The Titanic Chronicles. During his career as a nonfiction writer of primarily military history, Walter Lord published 11 books; A Night to Remember was his bestselling work and was adapted into a critically acclaimed film of the same name.

This guide follows the January 2005 50th anniversary paperback edition with an introduction by maritime nonfiction writer Nathaniel Philbrick.

While A Night to Remember does not feature any graphic depictions of death or violence, the Titanic disaster was a mass casualty event, and the work neither omits nor minimizes the significant loss of life that occurred as a result of the sinking.

A Night to Remember was written in 1955, when it was considered socially appropriate to refer to a married woman under the umbrella of her husband’s identity: “Mrs. [Husband’s First & Last Name].” This guide pays respect to the women mentioned in the text by referring to them by their own first names, with their marital relationships indicated by the title Mrs., for example “Mrs. J. J. Brown” becomes Mrs. Margaret Brown.

In addition, this guide refers to the watercrafts described herein as “she,” in accordance with not only the text of A Night to Remember but both the historically accurate and contemporary customs of maritime culture granting respect and reverence to ships, boats, and other vessels on the sea.


On the night of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic, the White Star Line’s newest luxury ocean liner—and the most luxurious and technologically advanced vessel on the seas—was steaming across the North Atlantic on her maiden voyage, traveling at 22.5 knots. She’d received six separate wireless transmissions from nearby ships warning her of the presence of significant ice along her route, but the captain made no effort to reduce the ship’s speed. The night was moonless, and the sea was as calm as polished glass. At 11:40pm, the two lookouts stationed in the crow’s nest noticed a massive shape, which seemed to appear suddenly. Ringing the bridge, they informed the officer on duty, calling out, “Iceberg, right ahead.” The Titanic was ordered to halt her engines, her wheel was turned hard to port, and her watertight doors were closed. Despite the crew’s last-minute efforts, the Titanic ground against an enormous piece of ice standing 100 feet out of the water, and the ocean began flooding into her bow. From the time of the impact, passengers and crew struggled to understand what was happening; the Titanic had been called unsinkable, and now the unthinkable appeared inevitable. Though the ship lacked enough lifeboats for everyone on board, passengers had trouble realizing the full extent of the danger, and many women and children prioritized for boarding the lifeboats refused to leave the ship. As the water continued to flow into her bow, the ship began to slowly tilt downward, her stern tilting upward, as urgency and panic grew among those on board. By the time most of the lifeboats were lowered, they were nowhere near filled to capacity. Those left behind on board either jumped into the sea before the ship sank, attempting to swim for the lifeboats, or took their chances trying to cling to the rising stern, hoping that rescue would soon arrive. Eventually, the Titanic could no longer bear her own weight, and she broke in half from her upper decks to her keel, her bow section falling back level as her stern became poised almost vertically, silhouetted against the night sky. For what may have been as long as two minutes, she paused there before the bow section sank and eventually sucked the stern section down at 2:20am on April 15. For an hour, the lifeboats stayed away, and people not in lifeboats attempted to survive the 28-degree water long enough to swim to a wooden or collapsible lifeboat. The lifeboats drifted across a four-mile radius of the open ocean as the Carpathia steamed to their aid. The Carpathia’s crew rescued 705 of the Titanic’s 2,240 passengers from the lifeboats and conveyed them to New York, where some reunited with their families. Many of these survivors were beset by grief at the loss of those they were forced to leave behind, and all of the survivors were stunned and forever impacted by the tragedy.