Summer Reading {Novelized History}

I sort of stumbled on my first reading series of the summer. I was lent the CDs for an Erik Larson audiobook for a road trip that I took in early May. I was so intrigued that I often found myself sitting in my car at my destination, listening. The Devil in the White City was both fascinating from an architectural/ structural view but also intriguing and suspenseful. After completion, I started In the Garden of Beasts. Both books were extremely interesting and varied in their subject matter. What impressed me the most was the whole concept of "novelized history." The stories are still told with the typical arch of a novel's plot development. But Larson sticks closely to history, littering his work with historic trivia...

Pabst Blue Ribbon is called such because it won the First Place Blue Ribbon at the Chicago World's Fair. Walt Disney's father was a construction worker at the fair and told his son stories of the "White City." The enchanted boy would dream of "other worlds and fairy kingdoms" until one day, he would make it a reality for everyone else. Helen Keller met the man who created the first braille typewriter at a booth in the fair.

Hitler's favorite movie was King Kong. During the Night of Long Knives, an unfortunate cellist had the same last name as an "enemy of the state." Apparently Schmidt and Schmitt are interchangeable to SS men. Goring was an eccentric child and Diels had a remarkable sense of morality (in comparison to his compatriots).

What struck me most about the style was Larson's insistence on sticking to primary sources for dialogue. He clearly spent hours in libraries, archives and private collections pouring over diaries, letters, official memos, court notes. Each story is told compellingly backed by the certainty of truth. I did not know such a thing was possible and I applaud Larson for it. I would not recommend these books to everyone. They are oftentimes bogged down in facts and very detailed. I think you need to be very interested in the subject matter, very interested in the historic process that such a work takes, or Larson's own mother to truly appreciate these works. 

As I have satisfied my interest on the process and exhausted his collection of subjects that interest me, I am going to move on to my second summer series: The Game of Thrones.Maybe I'll scheme up some novelized history books of my own... The Boer War, anyone?


  1. I really enjoyed "In the Garden of Beasts" and am planning to read the other as well!

  2. Brandon asked me last night who I would recommend these books to. You were on the list :) Glad you enjoyed it too!

  3. If you find yourself in the mood for an excellent biography, of the same era, I am currently reading Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer. Highly recommended!

    1. oh thanks! I am fascinated by his life. I'll check it out :)