Newspaper article International New York Times

A Conversation with Erik Larson

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Conversation with Erik Larson

Article excerpt

The author, most recently, of "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," keeps a book full of photographs of miniature dioramas of bloody crime scenes on his shelves. "A gift from a friend."

Erik Larson

The author, most recently, of "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," keeps a book full of photographs of miniature dioramas of bloody crime scenes on his shelves. "A gift from a friend."

Q. What books are currently on your night stand?

A."Life After Life," by Kate Atkinson; "Station Eleven," by Emily St. John Mandel; and "The Swerve," by Stephen Greenblatt. Though I'm annoyed at Greenblatt: The central character of his book, Poggio Bracciolini, is a guy I'd once thought would make a good subject for a book. Clearly that was the case. I suspect Greenblatt did it better.

Q. What are the best narrative nonfiction books you've read? Anyone you consider the master of the genre?

A.I'd call it a tie between John McPhee and David McCullough. Although McCullough has McPhee beat for his godlike presence. I think in a past life McCullough handed down the Ten Commandments. Both gents had a huge influence on me. McPhee spoke to my class at the Columbia grad school of journalism, and talked about his method of building a narrative. I stole as much of his approach as I could. It was David McCullough's "The Johnstown Flood" that lit my imagination as to how I might one day go about writing book-length nonfiction, though my favorite of his books is "Mornings on Horseback," about the young Teddy Roosevelt. However, here too I'd have to say that the two best individual works of narrative nonfiction remain "In Cold Blood," by Truman Capote, and "Hiroshima," by John Hersey.

Q. You studied Russian history and culture at the University of Pennsylvania. Do you enjoy reading Russian literature?

A.Da, dahlink! Da. Love it. I don't really have a bucket list, but if I did, one entry would be to dust off my college Russian and spend a big chunk of a year reading, or trying to read, "War and Peace" as it was meant to be read, in Russian, with all that rumbly rocks-on-rocks poetry inherent to the language. I can do the French parts already. …

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