Tag Archive | Erik Larson

Book Review: The Splendid and the Vile

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

Erik Larson is known for some really interesting non-fiction books.  He has covered Nazis, serial killers, hurricanes, sinking ships and gun control.  I have read several and have enjoyed each one.

The Splendid and the Vile is a deep dive into Winston Churchill and his leadership during the Blitz, the period of German bombing of London during 1940 and 1941 in World War II.  Larson covers aspects of Churchill’s leadership and those advisors he kept close to him, as well as his family life during that time.

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

Larson draws on first person sources by those who worked with Churchill, as well as his friends and family.  London also had a number of citizen diarists who recorded their thoughts and feelings during the Blitz, and those records provided wonderful context into this book.

This book was interesting, and I enjoyed learning more about a pivotal historical figure.  Churchill was a fascinating character for sure, and Larson does a good job of interjecting personal details about the man.

All that said, this book isn’t as riveting as his serial killer or disaster books, but one can’t have everything…

3 stars.

Book Review: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Let me say right now, that I don’t always choose disaster books. The last book I reviewed was a light hearted memoir about the Appalachian Trail after all! But I get it – I do choose a lot of disaster books. I consider this due to my love for all things historical, and well, disasters do make good history. At any rate…

Erik Larson has made a name for himself with several books on famous American tragedies; this book dives into the 1915 sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania during World War I by a German U-boat with several hundred Americans on board.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

The Lusitania disaster was a perfect storm of disasters, and Larson expertly details the circumstances leading up to its sinking. He meticulously researched records of the British admiralty, discovering just how much they knew about the movements of U-20 off the coast of Ireland in the days and hours leading up to the disaster.  He tells the stories of the passengers aboard, including tales of the 2nd and 3rd class passengers rather than just the rich and famous. He spins the stories in a way that leaves the reader hanging until the final moments about who lived and who died.

And he tells the story of the U-boat captain, living in the cramped, hot conditions of a submarine, ultimately more concerned about the tonnage that he could sink than the lives of over 1,000 non-combatants, including hundreds of women and children.

I like Larson’s writing style. He switches back and forth effortlessly among the three perspectives; the Lusitania, U-20, and the British Admiralty. He tells the story chronologically, building suspense and a sense of foreboding. You know the ship will go down – that’s in the history books, but who will make it?

And after the sinking, the mistakes don’t end. There are all those hundreds of lives that probably could have been saved, if only other ships had been dispatched right away. If only others hadn’t turned around, thinking it might be a German trap. If only…

It has been over one hundred years since the sinking of the Lusitania. Although the heyday of ocean liner travel is long over, there are still elements of the story that are very relevant. How many times have governments allowed innocent civilians to die because they didn’t want to reveal what they know and how they know it?

Dead Wake was a very worthwhile read – I was hooked the whole way through…

Book Review: Isaac’s Storm

Over the Christmas break, I had a little extra time to snuggle in and finish a book!  With a couple of uninterrupted hours, I made great progress, and it only took me a couple of weeks to finish Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson.  If the name Erik Larson sounds familiar, it is probably because he wrote the well known book, Devil in the White City, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to his “Murder Castle.”

Larson has written several other books, and while I haven’t read them (I did read Devil in the White City though), they look interesting and well researched.  Isaac’s Storm is no different.  It is the story of the Galveston Hurricane in 1900, a devastating hurricane that struck Galveston, TX in September 1900, killing 6000-12,000 people (estimates vary widely for several reasons).  The story is told through the eyes of Isaac Cline, the meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau who was stationed in Galveston.

Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larson

Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson

Larson uses Weather Bureau reports, telegrams and letters from survivors to tell the story of the days leading up to the storm, the terror of the hurricane’s strike on the city, and the tragic aftermath, when survivors learned who lived and who didn’t.  Sadly, the storm killed about 20% of the population of Galveston.  He also explains in detail what scientists knew and did not know at the time about hurricanes and their patterns, and explores the mistakes that were made by the players along the way.

Larson certainly doesn’t make Isaac Cline or the other men at the Weather Bureau into saints; instead he paints a picture of the serious mistakes that were made before the storm struck.    He explores the reality that the outcome could have been very different if a few men had been a bit less sure of themselves.

It is a worthwhile read and it is a quick read.  So if you have a chance, be sure to check it out.