Walter Lord was a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson when he started to write A Night to Remember, a slim 200-page book he'd publish in 1955.
Moment-by-moment, A Night to Remember recounts the courage and craziness of the crew and passengers aboard Titanic.
I remember devouring Lord's book when I was 10.
Hundreds of thousands of other readers do, too.
From the opening sentence, the book gallops through the three-hour horror.
Imagine if Spielberg, not Cameron, had made the 1997 film, and you get a feel for A Night to Remember.
Lord's 2002 obituary in The New York Times cited one reviewer's take on the writer's technique. He called it, "a kind of literary pointillism" so fashioned "that a vividly real impression of an event is conveyed to the reader."
The success of A Night to Remember—rave reviews, on the best-seller lists for months, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and TV and film adaptations—allowed Lord to quit his copywriter's job for full-time authoring.
He used the same "you are there" technique to retell stories like the attack on Pearl Harbor, the battle at the Alamo, and the integration of Ole Miss.
But none of those books quite compare to his first blockbuster.
HISTORY BUFFS' NOTE: Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic.