In the Waves: My Quest To Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine

Dutton. Apr. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781524744151. $28. HIST
This debut by scientific researcher Lance chronicles her experience as an engineer for the U.S. Navy and later a Duke University doctoral student, testing her hypothesis in order to explain how the crew of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley died after torpedoing the USS Housatonic. Lance deftly blends historical narrative and the unraveling of this scientific puzzle in a thoroughly accessible and entertaining style. Chapters discuss different theories that caused the death of the crew, including suffocation, drowning, a “lucky-shot,” explosions, blast waves, and pressure waves. For example, while investigating the H.L. Hunley’s torpedo, Lance researches how black powder (gunpowder) was manufactured and used during the Civil War. To test the lucky-shot theory (a sailor abroad the sinking Housatonic shot the submarine’s conning tower), Lance had a Civil War reenactor with a period-accurate rifle fire at cast iron skillets and compared the bullet holes to the sub’s damaged tower. Using her extensive research, Lance concludes that the damage to the submarine was not the result of a lucky shot, but of pressure waves.
VERDICT This engaging investigative work will intrigue readers of Civil War and naval histories and sleuths of scientific puzzles.

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