We were on vacation in our favorite middle-of-nowhere when I picked up this book. Nowhere just so happens to have a tiny independent bookstore, and no matter how many books we’ve hauled up there (always more than we can possibly read) we buy a few more. I bought this one, and started reading it the minute we got back to our cabin. I couldn’t put it down.
When we saw Mr. Larson last week, he talked about the genesis of this story. He was looking for his next project when he took home THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH and realized this 1,147 page history lesson, while intimidating at first, read like a thriller. He was hooked.
What intrigued him most about the storytelling was the perspective: author William L. Shirer had, in his capacity as a foreign correspondent for CBS, socialized with and reported on the Nazis from inside Germany since 1925. Shirer was an outsider on the inside, and he’d watched the story unfold without having any idea how it would all end. While Larson wondered what that would be like, he also realized this would be the key to the story he wanted to tell.
Erik Larson does all of his own research. He’s not an expert on Hitler or the Nazis or WWII, but he knows what he does well. He is an expert on drilling down on one thing. Enter the real character of William E. Dodd. Dodd was the American ambassador to Germany in 1933. While doing research in the library, Larson came across Dodd’s diary and his daughter, Martha’s, memoir describing their time there. Larson knew immediately that these would be his characters: (1) he writes for an American audience, and (2) Dodd and his daughter brought two very interesting and differing naivetés to the story of how and why the world failed to see what was happening in Germany in the mid 1930s.
I leave you with these tidbits from Mr. Larson’s talk:
His favorite books are: THE MALTESE FALCON — all writers should read this book to appreciate the skill of his storytelling, to see how he does it; and WAR AND PEACE — he’s read it 4 times.
The first book he published got only one review and it was negative. At his first (and only) signing for this book, in Lancaster, PA, it took 1 and 1/2 hours before anyone talked to him.
Never have a book signing or reading on the first warm and sunny day after a long winter.
He read THE HUNGER GAMES. Loved it.
A fascinating story about a fascinating time. I heard an interview with him on NPR. Sounds like a great book.
He’s very witty and entertaining, Joe. If you ever have a chance to see him in person, it’s worth it.
The Maltese Falcon. I’m checking it out now.
You and me both. I checked it out this afternoon.
days before going on a vacation, i think, “i’m not taking ONE book–i’m going to wait and buy my vacation reading there.” it never works. i always end up taking “a few for the drive” and then still buy “a few for the trip” as soon as i make my way to the nearest bookstore.
(is it me or is erik larson one of the few people who can get away with saying “my favorite book is war and peace” without sounding pretentious? it’s probably me.)
Ha! Mr. Larson can claim War and Peace because, (1) I believe he means it, and (2) he admitted to reading, and enjoying, The Hunger Games within minutes of saying the words War and Peace. 😉
Only one review and one signing–fascinating! I’m curious what that first book was…
The Naked Consumer
A man who’s read War and Peace four times loved The Hunger Games. Love.
One thing! That’s the thread. Writers who pull me in turn an entire political, socioeconomic world into one event that encapsulates it all. Yes, yes, yes.
Sounds so simple doesn’t it? And yet we all know that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I love how he focuses on what he knows he does best. He’s not expecting to research his topic to death and become and overall expert. He picks one thing to focus on and drills down as far as he can on the one thing.
Sounds so easy. Ha! One of the hardest things about writing (aside from sitting my ass in the chair) is to stay focused on what the book is about (ONE THING) and not allow myself to run off onto too many other roads.
Lancaster, PA is my hometown, and I lived there when his first book came out, which means that I was part of the problem when no one showed up to his signing. Oops.
It is all your fault, Laura. I knew you would man up.
Slightly disheartening first book reading situation! I’m sure it picked up after that. Sounds like a fascinating read -that was what I kept asking myself in Berlin: How did these people BELIEVE this monster??