Book Reviews: 3 Erik Larson Titles

We are thrilled to have author Erik Larson joining us at the library for a chat about his books this Wednesday night! We’ve long been fans of his work and have collected our reviews of 3 of his titles here to help you get ready for his appearance! You can learn more about the event by clicking here.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

devil in the white cityErik Larson has come to be known as the master of narrative non-fiction, and reading this book it is easy to see why. Here he follows the parallel stories of Daniel Hudson Burnham as he puts together the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Henry H. Holmes, who would become one of America’s worst serial killers. The book would be engaging enough if it had only followed Burnham’s story, as the effort that went into the World’s Fair makes for riveting reading. The grounds and pavilions are described in such great detail that it is easy to imagine yourself standing among them. As well, the technological marvels on display at the Fair really paint a picture of the exciting progress that was taking place in the world at the time. But juxtaposing the incredible accomplishments and optimism surrounding the Fair with the grisly tale of Holmes is pure genius. Operating out of his custom designed World’s Fair Hotel just a short walk from the grounds, he used shockingly vicious means to kill several innocent people. His hotel of horrors feels like the sort of thing that could only happen in a movie or our worst nightmares, but unfortunately was only all to real. This absolutely perfect book expertly highlights both the wonders and horrors that humanity is capable of while illuminating 2 noteworthy parts of American history. ★★★★★ – Sean Farrell


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thunderstruckErik Larson has proven himself very adept at finding seemingly unrelated tales throughout history and then helping us see how they ultimately interconnect and affect each other. This book at times feels like a companion to 2 of his other hits, with the Lusitania and the Chicago World’s Fair both making brief appearances, and it’s side-by-side narratives of great human accomplishment and shocking crime make it feel somewhat similiar to The Devil in the White City, but it very much stands on its own. Here we learn about Guglielmo Marconi and his attempts to make his invention of wireless telegraphy a success, while also following the tale of Hawley Crippen, the perpetrator of a crime that would wind up capturing the attention of people all over the world. Both stories are riveting in and of themselves, but seeing how they come together in the end is fascinating and thrilling. The detail is impeccable, and really helps us to get to know the characters and the time they lived in, helping to make the finale as suspenseful as anything you might find in a novel. No one writes narrative nonfiction like Erik Larson, and while this book may not be as well known as some of his bigger hits, it is every bit as great. ★★★★★ – Sean Farrell

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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

dead wakeErik Larson has done it again. One of our time’s finest writers of non-fiction has once more taken a page from our history and turned it into a most compulsively readable book. This time telling the tale of the sinking of the luxury liner Lusitania by the Germans during World War I, the narrative follows everyone from the passengers and crew of the ill-fated ship, to the men on the U-boat that fired the torpedo, to the British and American officials monitoring the situation and making the decisions about how to respond. Mr. Larson provides a stunning amount of detail, enough to make one feel as if they had actually spent time aboard the opulent liner with its travelers, but at no point does it seem as though the details are bogging things down. To the contrary, events move along at a brisk pace as they head towards their tragic end. It is a sad but fascinating tale, handled here with aplomb, in a book that is sure to wind up on many year-end best lists. ★★★★★ – Sean Farrell


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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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