Each time Erik Larson touches pen to paper, it is a book-publishing event. Specializing in resurrecting once-famous news stories, Larson knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novel ever could. Bringing the history of an entire era to life through a single narrative thread, Larson’s stories have ranged from a murder mystery at Chicago’s 1893 World Fair to the American ambassador who witnessed Hitler’s rise to power to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania during the First World War. If you think that serious nonfiction can’t achieve the intimate characterizations and epic scope of the greatest novels, here are the page-turners to add to your reading list.
In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.
As European powers scrambled for Africa in the 1880s, King Leopold II of Belgium seized the vast territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering, he looted its natural resources and brutalized its people—reducing its population by ten million souls—all the while cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian.
Re-creating the history of an entire era through the delicate hull of a racing shell, this is the improbable story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal: nine working-class boys from the American West who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world the meaning of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Following the dramatic breakdown of diplomacy to the frenzied battles, Max Hastings gives us a conflict radically different from the familiar narrative of barbed wire, mud, and futility. The 1915 sinking of the Lusitania was the end of an era, and this is a vivid portrait of how Europe became embroiled in the war that would change everything.
Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the early morning hours of May 2, 1981. For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this beautiful and isolated remnant of the Old South. John Berendt’s sharply observed and suspenseful account of this landmark murder case is a sublime and seductive reading experience.
Intimate and detailed, Denise Kiernan explores the untold story of the thousands of young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in American history: the creation of the atomic bomb.
A fan of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, Larson told the New York Times that his “work gave me a new way of thinking about writing—the value of weeding out adjectives and adverbs. He was, above all, a master at the art of not saying.” Pick up In Our Time to explore how Larson’s spare prose has its roots in Hemingway’s signature style.
Illuminating one of the most fascinating yet little-known aspects of the Civil War—the stories of four courageous women: a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow, who risked everything to become spies—this deeply researched account draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.
In 1897, a human torso was discovered in the Lower East Side. In Harlem, neatly severed limbs were found in an overgrown ditch. Clues turned up all over New York, but with no witnesses, no motives, and no suspects. This horrifying and baffling murder mystery of the Gilded Age is the perfect follow-up for fans of The Devil in the White City.
Revisit William Dodd and his infamous daughter, Martha, in this account of Germany’s march into the abyss. Told from the perspective of Americans—diplomats, military, expats, writers, athletes—who witnessed Hitler’s rise to power up close, Hitlerland is a startlingly fresh perspective on this heavily dissected era.
Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history, The Train to Crystal City reveals the never-before-told story of a secret internment camp in Texas where thousands of families—many US citizens—were incarcerated and exchanged for high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan.