Erik Larson, Historical Nonfiction Author

by PeggyHazelwood

Historical nonfiction author Erik Larson writes engaging books that let you feel like you're living in the era but watching the goings on from a safe distance.

Erik Larson's books take a slice of history, a specific story, and tell that story in an entertaining way. Larson writes stories about a specific person but does not isolate the story of that man and his accomplishments; he reveals the workings of the day, the time period, the dress, the mannerisms and language into the story.

In his book, Larson sometimes tells the story of not just one man of the time, but two men, who each alone made their individual impact but together he shows the opposing sides of the world at the time.

Larson's extensive research and writing style brings an event alive and with it, the history of that era. Larson's most popular book, Devil in the White City, for instance, stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 3 years. And that's simply because of his writing style. It's engaging and highly readable.

In an interview with, he said, "Where historians go wrong, the professional, academic historians is that they leave the best stories literally in the footnotes. As if they are too frivolous to tell in the actual body of a text."

Photo by Joe Mabel Wikimedia

Erik Larson, Author

Erik Larson in 2007
Erik Larson in 2007

Erik Larson was born in 1954 and graduated from the University of Pennyslvania where he studied Russian history, culture, and language combined with a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Before becoming a full-time book author, Larson wrote for The Wall Street Journal, the Bucks County Courier TimesTime Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harper's.

He lives in Seattle with his wife and three daughters.

Isaac's Storm

"The 'Jaws' of Hurricane Yarns"

Larson's book Isaac's Storm was published in 1999 and details the Great Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston, Texas. This hurricane killed more than 10,000 people.

Isaac of the book's title is Isaac Cline, the weatherman who inaccurately predicted the hurricane's force and damage it could and would ultimately do.

When speaking to an interviewer about writing Isaac's Storm, Larson said, "But what I found with Isaac's Storm, initially and with this book also, is that for now at least, maybe I don't have a novelist's sensibility, but what I do have is a terrific ear and eye for the little stories that bring an era alive. The best way to convey those stories is in the world of non-fiction."

The Washington Post called Isaac's Storm "the 'Jaws' of hurricane yarns."


Erick Larson's non-fiction book, Thunderstruck, was published in 2006. This historical book details the history of how our telecommunication system began along with another darker story.

Again two men's stories are told side by side:  Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor of wireless telegraphy communication (the radio), and Hawley Harvey Crippen, a British murderer. Larson intertwined world events to make these historic events come to life.

Thunderstruck also became a New York Times bestselling book.

The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Erik Larson published his book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America  in 2003.  In this historical book, he tells two men's stories--the architect of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and Dr. H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who terrorized and killed just blocks away from the fair.

This book became a number one best-selling book on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2004, Larson was awarded the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, for The Devil in the White City.

In the Garden of the Beasts

Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Larson's 2011 book, In the Garden of the Beasts, Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, delves into the sinister world leading up to World War II. Hilter's Germany is explored through the eyes of an American ambassador at the beginning of his Hitler's reign.

The American ambassador and his daughter moved to Nazi Germany on behalf of the United States as the German dictator gained power.

Dead Wake

The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Erik Larson's latest book is Dead Wake:  The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. This nonfiction book was published in 2014, the one-hundredth anniversary of the disaster. From Erik Larson's website, the book is described thusly:

"Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters... ."

This is the only book listed here I haven't read yet, and I can't wait!

Source:  Erik Larson

Do You Have a Favorite Erik Larson Book?

I Know It's Hard to Choose Just One!
Updated: 10/19/2014, PeggyHazelwood
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Do You Enjoy Reading Historical Books Like These of Erik Larson's?

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WriterArtist on 10/17/2014

Yep - I like do read historical books with good endings.

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