When I hear the word "Titanic," I picture a tuxedoed Leonardo DiCaprio, waiting at the bottom of a gilded staircase while the voice of Celine Dion swells in my mind. It's all Edwardian glitz and glamour, decadence and passionate love, the kind best enjoyed in a dark theater with plenty of popcorn. And then I quickly remember that the ship sinks, and that Titanic is more than just an epic film from my youth. On April 15, a century will have passed since the ship plummeted into the icy Atlantic, and it is the tragedy we should remember, not just the mythology surrounding it. A movie can help us picture the events — I know I will be catching the new 3-D version of the film as it returns to theaters for the anniversary — but it can't fully capture the heartbreaking stories and fascinating discoveries tied to the Titanic. For a more complete understanding, we must turn to books.
Fortunately, there are hundreds out there. And with the centennial comes a boatload of new titles, from glossy coffee table commemorations to memoirs by the scientists who have poked around inside the wreckage. Titanic experts, Gilded Age historians and nautical novelists have picked this moment to deliver their thoughts on the sinking. Here are a few of my favorites.