Books by Erik Larson

Best known for The Devil in the White City, Time contributing writer Erik Larson has taught nonfiction writing San Francisco State, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and the University of Oregon. His latest book, In the Garden of the Beasts, which received a Kirkus star, looks at an American in Nazi-era Berlin. Photo credit: Benjamin Benschneider


HISTORY
Released: March 10, 2015

"An intriguing, entirely engrossing investigation into a legendary disaster. Compared to Greg King and Penny Wilson's Lusitania (2014), also publishing to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking, Larson's is the superior account."
Larson (In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, 2011, etc.) once again demonstrates his expert researching skills and writing abilities, this time shedding light on nagging questions about the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 10, 2011

"An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning."
A sometimes improbable but nevertheless true tale of diplomacy and intrigue by bestselling author Larson (Thunderstruck, 2006, etc.). Read full book review >
THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Oct. 24, 2006

"At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson."
A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Feb. 1, 2003

"Gripping drama, captured with a reporter's nose for a good story and a novelist's flair for telling it. (6 b&w photos, 1 map, not seen)"
A vivid account of the tragedies and triumphs of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the concurrent depravities of America's first serial killer. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 8, 1999

There is bad weather, and there are 100-year storms. Then there are meteorological events. In September 1900, one of the latter visited Galveston, Tex., and ate the city alive. Larson tells the story with (at times overnourished) brio. The Isaac in Larson's (Lethal Passage: How the Travels of a Single Handgun Expose the Roots of America's Gun Crisis, 1994) title is Isaac Cline: head meteorologist of the Galveston station of the US Weather Bureau in 1900, a man who thought he had the drop on weather systems because he had data, and from data he could predict the meteorological future. But, as Larson shows, from Philo of Byzantium in 300 b.c. to the talking weatherheads of today, forecasting the weather has always been a "black and dangerous art." When Cline blithely stated that Galveston's vulnerability to extreme weather was "an absurd delusion," he was inviting trouble, and it came calling. A series of administrative snafus and ignored warnings from Cuba found the city unprepared for the monster rogue hurricane. The air turned wild and gray, a storm surge swept over the city, the wind became "a thousands little devils, shrieking and whistling," said a survivor. It is now thought to have topped 150 mph. "Slate fractured skulls and removed limbs. Venomous snakes spiraled upward into trees occupied by people. A rocket of timber killed a horse in mid-gallop." It's estimated that 8,000 people died, and Cline was not decorated for his brilliant forecasting by a grateful city government. Larson paints a withering portrait of the early Weather Bureau and offers a wild and woolly reconstruction of the storm, full of gripping anecdotal accounts told with flair, even if he overplays the portents, sapping their menace and turning them into a melodrama most often accompanied by trembling piano keys. Cline saw himself as "a scientist, not some farmer who gauged the weather by aches in his rheumatoid knee." He should have listened to his bones. Larson captures his ignominy, and the storm in its fury. (Author tour) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: March 9, 1994

A frightening tour through America's gun culture by way of a single weapon — a semiautomatic hailed by its manufacturer as "the gun that made the '80s roar," and a single criminal — a troubled Virginia teenager who used the gun in a terrifying rampage. In December 1988, hoping to retaliate against a taunting class bully, 16-year-old Nicholas Elliot walked into his Virginia Beach high school and ended up murdering one teacher, grievously wounding another, and was only prevented from wreaking havoc by jammed cartridges. Wall Street Journal reporter Larson (The Naked Consumer, 1992) is after more than just an In Cold Blood-style narrative of a crime and its punishment. He outlines, painstakingly and chillingly, how the Cobray M-11/9, a weapon originally designed for battlefield use, ended up, like so many other guns across the country, falling into the wrong hands. How could the number of handguns grow so exponentially in America, from 16 million in 1960 to almost 67 million in 1989? The popular culture has fanned interest in them, from westerns that created the mystique of the American rifleman to media accounts of shooting sprees and movies and TV episodes that have boosted sales of exotic weapons. But Larson also finds "a de facto conspiracy of gun dealers, manufacturers, marketers, gun writers, and federal regulators" that have fed the huge demand. In the course of his research, Larson attended gun shows, visited a self-defense class that teaches women how to shoot, applied for and received a federal gun dealer's license, and interviewed a mail-order merchant of how-to guides to murder and the owner of the gun shop later found guilty of negligence in selling the handgun. He describes how the hard-core leadership of the National Rifle Association continues to hold sway over a more moderate rank and file and explains the workings of the toothless agency designated to enforce the nation's few gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (e.g., gun purchase records remain in the hands of gun dealers, who can obstruct the work of ATF agents). An urgent and, after the Long Island Railroad massacre, sadly timely wake-up call to stop America's "new tyranny" of gun violence. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 27, 1992

Here, former Wall Street Journal reporter Larson, incensed and victimized, exposes the network of consumer espionage that places ordinary citizens at risk of losing their constitutional right to privacy by merely purchasing something—even this book—or by refusing to purchase what researchers, from their lists and profiles, believe they should. Using the census, a variety of public records such aa birth or real-estate notices, hidden cameras, and live observers ("spymasters"), market researchers can and do uncover intimate details about the lives of consumers (their eating habits, sexual preferences, personal hygiene) for the purpose of shaping the way products are marketed and to whom—but rarely to improve goods and services. Larson traces how subtle, sophisticated, and easily abused this information-gathering is, highlighted by the psychologists and archaeologists, employed by advertising agencies, who sift through household trash, and by the anthropologists whose study of masculinity concluded that modern men require a new set of symbols to rescue them from their sexual confusion—a set of symbols to be provided by an advertising campaign. An insightful historical survey of marketing techniques from "mass" marketing to "target" marketing-used to identify specific segments of the market and to manipulate their behavior—shows the evolution of consumer espionage aa a "science," complete with its own jargon (e.g., "post decision dissonance," which means realizing you have bought a lousy car). Personal, indignant, clever: Larson offers strong ammunition against an enemy so insidious that most people don't even know it's there. Read full book review >