5 Best Erik Larson Books (2020)

Erik Larson Best Books Review Bio

Erik Larson is an American writer and journalist. He specializes in the non-fiction historical writer genre. He has written eight books, five of which have made their way onto the New York Time’s Bestseller List and onto this review.

After majoring in Russian studies as an undergraduate student of the University of Pennsylvania, he received a Master’s degree in journalism from the University of Columbia. It didn’t take too long for the American author to start writing for prestigious publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Times magazines, which he still occasionally collaborates with.

He has also taught non-fiction writing at various centers and institutions, among them San Francisco State, John Hopkins Writing Seminars and Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham. Larson does all of the research for the books he writes himself, and is very strict when it comes to taking “creative liberties” in his works. He likes to adhere to facts, and everything he puts into his narrative he has taken from some historical document.

Erik Larson knows how to put the STORY in history! His books are word soups chock-full of facts that don’t give you an indigestion around the second chapter; the narrative unfolds so naturally and seamlessly you’ll find yourself asking for second helpings of history, even if you aren’t a history buff. Let’s find out more about the best books written by Eric Larson.

Best Erik Larson Books

Photo Title Rating Length Buy
In the Garden of Beasts 7.70/10 448 Pages Check Price On Amazon
Dead Wake 8.18/10 430 Pages Check Price On Amazon
The Devil in the White City 7.98/10 447 Pages Check Price On Amazon
Isaac’s Storm 8.10/10 336 Pages Check Price On Amazon
Thunderstruck 7.42/10 463 Pages Check Price On Amazon

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

 

In the Garden of Beasts tells the experience William Dodd had as U.S. Ambassador to Berlin in the critical time period when Hitler had just come to power. Between the years 1933 and 1937, Dodd and his family became first-hand witnesses of the dramatic events happening in Germany which so deeply impacted the world order.

William’s flashy and wild daughter, Martha, travelled with the family as she was going through a divorce at the time. Seduced by the parties, the power, the faith Hitler inspired and his efforts to curb unemployment, Martha dove head-first into the blooming Nazi scene. She diligently applied the adage of to get over a man get under another, and had several liaisons with prominent men of the time, including head of Gestapo Rudolf Dies.

However, the Ambassador soon began to harbor misgivings about the political situation unfolding before their very eyes. The persecution of Jews was turning disturbing, the censorship in the press was troubling, and Dodd wrote insistently to the State Department back home to openly protest and oppose the Nazi regime. Most State Department officials viewed this as undiplomatic and unprofessional.

In the Garden of Beasts, in reference to the Berlin park Tiergarten (which literally translates to Garden of animals), tells the chilling story of how a family of American diplomats witnessed the rise of the Third Reich and saw Hitler show his true colors in what became a crucial turning point in modern history.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

 

RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner, a 787-feet-long grand vessel that on May 7th, 1915 was approaching British coast lines in what turned out to be its last New York-Liverpool voyage. When it was 11 miles from the coast, the passengers aboard the ship heard and explosion, followed shortly by another. 18 minutes later, the enormous ship had sunk, taking almost 1,200 lives with it on its way to the ocean depths.

One of the great sailing tragedies, along with the Titanic, the sinking of the Lusitania also has political undertones to it that the former was lacking. The Lusitania was struck by a German submarine, it was not an unfortunate accident. Many riddles sprung up around the catastrophe, questions with no answers that Larson tries to shed some light on.

Why, for example, didn’t the British authorities provide the Lusitania with an escort ship, even though the year was 1915, Germany and Britain were at war, and Germany had declared British waters a war zone?

U-boot or submarine warfare was a deadly novelty to be reckoned with, and the gentleman’s former war etiquette that prevented military officials from attacking civilians belonged to a rapidly retreating era. What caused the second explosion that was clearly felt on deck, when the German submarine fired only once? Why was the rescue ship called back to port?

A tangled web of official secrets, political agenda and unclear motivations lurk beneath the murky waters of this nautical conundrum. The German tactical move turned American public opinion against the nation quickly, which would lay the foundations for the U.S. entry into World War I to alleviate a depleted Great Britain in the military conflict that was tearing Europe apart.

The mystery remains, though, as to how much of this event can be attributed to twist of fate, and how much is due to political cunning and machinations. Well-researched and well-written, Larson manages to make past events spring back to life with his unique style.

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

 

World Expositions have always been fairs that presented the world with astonishing happenings; the best and the brightest minds display the fruits of their ingenuity. The 1893 Chicago World Fair was no different; it did, however, become the stage for a feat that would shock viewers for its horrific nature: the series of murders perpetrated with H.H. Holmes.

Daniel H. Burnham is the head architect that is burdened with an almost impossible task: oversee the World Fair project and ensure that it runs smoothly and is finished in time. The design for the “White City”, as the center of the project would later be known, was grandiose, and the turnaround time was as short as the order was tall.

The masses and mayhem the Illinois city attracted at the end of the 19th century became the perfect hunting ground for the evil presence lurking on its streets. Dr Holmes saw a lucrative opportunity and erected a hotel. There he would lure his believed to be hundreds of victims and dispose of their bodies in the gas chamber he purposefully had constructed in the Hotel’s basement. His charming personality and good looks overrode any red flags.

Erik Larson manages to bring together the fate of the two men with radically different agendas for the Chicago World Fair, but that would nonetheless have an enormous impact on the international event.

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

 

Isaac’s Storm gives an account of Isaac Cline’s encounter with the storm that wreaked chaos on Galveston. On the morning of September 8th, 1900, the rapidly growing Texan city was largely unaware that, as the day progressed, it would be hit by one of the true forces of nature: a whopping category 4 hurricane.

Drawing on the testimonies of the lucky survivors and applying current scientific knowledge of hurricanes to the start-of-the-century happenings, Larson guides the reader through the events of that fatal late summer day in the South of the U.S., when the forceful winds that hurled through Galveston left behind them more than six thousand victims.

Isaac’s Storm is a cautionary tale against human intellectual arrogance, and how swiftly and mightily it can be humbled by the all-powerful Mother Nature. Fun fact: it is also the author’s wife’s favorite best Erik Larson book.

Thunderstruck

 

First, we have Guglielmo Marconi, a half-Irish, half-Italian prodigy that landed on late nineteenth century England with the stout desire to showcase his latest invention: wireless. With strong opposition from a mystical and séance-organizing Liverpool professor that had already demonstrated that electromagnetic waves could be broadcasted from afar, Marconi struggles to get the patent for radio.

Second, there’s Hawley Harvey Crippen, a spineless husband crippled by his overbearing wife. After years of keeping up the façade of domestic bliss, Crippen locks eyes with a young woman who showers him with the affection his wife has denied him in all those unhappily married years. Passion and love drive shy, soft-spoken Crippen to uxoricide, and ultimately to flee England with his mistress.

Larson interweaves these two seemingly unrelated stories to showcase how radio made it possible to broadcast the hot pursuit of the two fugitives in real-time, much to the listener’s macabre delight and unbeknownst to the pair of criminal love-birds. In much the same manner as in Devil in the White City, Larson draws the lines that join the dispersed dots of the past.

The best Erik Larson books (and the other three that didn’t make the list) showcase this writer’s ability to mix fact with narrative; an interesting mix that makes for enjoyable and informational reading time. Definitely recommended for lovers of non-fiction and of history, and especially for those that have a hard time reading more traditional historical accounts that focus more on dry facts than on the story being told.

Author
Michael Englert
Michael Englert
Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.