Discover what Erik Larson, one of today's most famous historians, reads when he's not researching and writing.
What does one of today’s most famous historians read when he’s not researching and writing? Excellent novels.
Erik Larson is perhaps best known for The Devil in the White City, his recounting of a serial killer that terrorized the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. But his fascinating explorations into the sinking of the Lusitania in Dead Wake and the hurricane that ravaged Galveston, Texas, in Isaac’s Storm have also helped build anticipation for his upcoming The Splendid and the Vile. The story of Winston Churchill’s first year as prime minister during World War II, The Splendid and the Vile tugs readers deep into Churchill’s inner circle even as the French capitulate to the Germans and Churchill warns British citizens of likely invasion.
Shortly before the publication of The Splendid and the Vile, we asked Larson what books he’s been reading and loving lately. Here’s what he said.
Erik Larson’s favorite recent reads
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
This is a tiny book with a huge heart, about a man—Captain Kidd—who in 1870 is hired to transport a young girl across Texas and return her to her relatives, after she is released by the Kiowa, who had abducted her several years earlier during a raid on a white settlement. The girl at this point has little grasp of English, let alone the ways of the white world, and this makes for a narrative that is in turns funny, moving, and tense, as the two set off on a three-week journey fraught with deepening peril.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The plot centers on Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, sentenced by communist authorities, in 1922, to life imprisonment in the Metropol hotel in Moscow, with the warning, “should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot.” Within the hotel’s walls, Rostov builds around himself a world of great vivacity and charm, aided by a troupe of eccentric characters including two savvy young girls, with the result that the book achieves that thing all writers hope for but rarely accomplish, a magic that transcends the words on the page.
Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré
I’ve always been a big fan of le Carré’s books, ever since I read his 1968 novel, A Small Town in Germany, and I was quick to buy this, his latest. Anything I write here would constitute a spoiler, but suffice it to say it’s about spies, mid-life malaise, and a Europe on the verge of transformation. Let me just tease to the fact that there is an element of this book that readers disgusted with contemporary politics will find extremely satisfying.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
In turns moving and funny, Backman’s novel ventures into the life of Ove, a man in late middle age who has adapted to his lonely new world by becoming, frankly, a crabby old fart. But I wager that you’ll soon fall in love with Ove and be deeply moved by his situation, and after spending time with him, may perhaps gaze at the world around you with a little more empathy than when you turned the first page.
Author photo by Nina Subin
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