Erik Larson

in Conversation with Michael Krasny

Recorded May 2nd, 2020

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Erik Larson in conversation with Michael Krasny
Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

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Erik Larson is the author of eight books, six of which became New York Times bestsellers. His latest books, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz and Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, both hit no. 1 on the list soon after launch.
He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Russian history, language and culture; he received a masters in journalism from Columbia University. After a brief stint at the Bucks County Courier Times, Erik became a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, and later a contributing writer for Time Magazine. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and other publications.
He has taught non-fiction writing at San Francisco State, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, the University of Oregon, and the Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, Wash., and has spoken to audiences from coast to coast. A former resident of Seattle, he now lives in Manhattan with his wife, a neonatologist, who is also the author of the nonfiction memoir, Almost Home, which, as Erik puts it, “could make a stone cry.” They have three daughters in far-flung locations and professions. Their beloved dog Molly resides in an urn on a shelf overlooking Central Park, where they like to think she now spends most of her time.

Even in the midst of great events, our heroes still had to deal with such quotidian matters as paying bills and resolving domestic dramas. It’s these little corners of history that most appeal to me.”

– Erik Larson, interviewed in BookPage

Erik Larson is the author of eight books, six of which became New York Times bestsellers. His latest books, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz and Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, both hit no. 1 on the list soon after launch. His saga of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, The Devil in the White City, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won an Edgar Award for fact-crime writing; it lingered on various Times bestseller lists for the better part of a decade. Hulu plans to adapt the book for a limited TV series, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese as executive producers. Erik’s In the Garden of Beasts, about how America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany and his daughter experienced the rising terror of Hitler’s rule, has been optioned by Tom Hanks for development as a feature film.
Erik’s first book of narrative nonfiction, Isaac’s Storm, about the giant hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas, in 1900, won the American Meteorology Society’s prestigious Louis J. Battan Author’s Award. The Washington Post called it the “Jaws of hurricane yarns.” Erik is particularly pleased to have won the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 2016 Carl Sandburg Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

Visit the Book Passage website to have any of Erik’s books delivered right to your door.

You’re sure to enjoy these Book Passage favorites:

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

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

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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Deadwake2

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

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Get ready to join Erik in conversation, Saturday, April 18.

In the meantime, we invite you to take a moment now to help shape this upcoming conversation:

Check out the list of questions submitted by other registered attendees, and then vote to support any of the ones that match your own interests.
Feel free to add your own question. Then spread the word to make sure others have the chance to help move your question to the top of the shared list.

  • 7

    votes

    Do you do all your research…or do you have a team that helps sort though the archives to research your selected topic?

  • 5

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    Do you outline in great detail prior to writing? If so, do you find you bypass your outline frequently because your research is always turning up something new? Thus, how useful is it other than in just building confidence that you have found a viable topic?

  • 5

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    Who are some of your favorite authors, whether fiction or non-fiction, and have they influenced your writing?

  • 4

    votes

    I have enjoyed and learned a lot from all of your books. You apparently prefer, however, to stay within a certain historic time span. Have you ever considered writing about people and events from eras earlier than 1890- 1950?

  • 4

    votes

    What were the biggest surprises you experienced in your research about Churchill.

  • 3

    votes

    I often feel like Ambassador William Dodge, watching the systematic dismantling of the Weimar Republic.  I see the history of Tiergarten Strasse replayed on Pennsylvania Avenue.  
    Can you speak to the parallels you see between the Nazi identification of Jews as ‘the other,’ and today’s vilification of: Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, the Press, etc, etc?

  • 3

    votes

    Was the lack of trained pilots a problem for the British?

  • 3

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    So much was happening every day, full speed. During the research and writing process, how did you keep track of developments and how did you decide which topics you’d include and detail in the book?

  • 2

    votes

    Are you currently formulating plans for your next book, or do you like to simply enjoy the experience of supporting the new book, in this case “The Splendid and the Vile”?

  • 1

    votes

    Throughout the book you cover many romances among the secondary characters such as Mary Churchill, John Colville, etc. What compelled you to include these interludes in your narrative?

  • 1

    votes

    Images from The Devil in the White City haunt me to this day. How much of the story did you know before you started to write, and how much did you discover along the way?

  • 1

    votes

    Referring back to first question— ..Do you essentially “start from scratch” doing your own research rather than relying on research by others?

  • 0

    votes

    On average, about how long do you spend planning on writing any one book? do you keep a writing schedule?

  • 0

    votes

    Could the 400,000 British and French soldiers and with the support of the RAF facing the 110,000 German troops in northern France have a good chance of defeating the Germans instead of evacuating the troops at Dunkirk in those first days of the invasion of France

  • 0

    votes

    I’m always impressed by how you make the smallest details palpable–the weather, the smells, the sounds of history. How are you able to do this for eras you never lived through?

  • 0

    votes

    What do you think of John Lithgow’s portrayal of WC in The Crown?

  • 0

    votes

    Is there any way to see this after the fact? I just discovered it today.

  • 0

    votes

    In addition to the writer’s need to tell a good story, what inspires your choice of subjects, and what prevailing theme do those choices underscore in your work? In short, what inspires you? And another, if I may, can you offer any wisdom from your superbly researched subjects and stories to our troubled todays?

  • 0

    votes

    Somehow you manage to balance the ordinary life of the family with the bigger picture of the country at war and international geopolitics, so that the levels support each other. How do you do that? How do you decide which stories to tell through which persons eyes?

  • 0

    votes

    how see this interview after the actual date is is broadcast?

  • 0

    votes

    What has been your favorite subject matter so far? Has a topic been piqued your interest after doing research for some of your other novels?

  • 0

    votes

    Please sit in front of the came.

  • 0

    votes

    As a historian myself, I’m curious about your historical research process. What is your system for selecting a topic and then finding, documenting, and citing sources? Do you have research assistants conducting fact checks along the way?