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The Early Word: New Books for the Week of May 9, 2011

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A book worth a look (or a quizzical thumb-through): The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, in which hoax-spotting journalist Jon Ronson enters the corridors of power to put some iron-clad neurological skills to the test to prove that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
by Erik Larson

Yeah, yeah, “write what you know…” It’s all very well and good, and no doubt tried and true. And cliché.

But finally, with Erik Larson, a writer emerges to let a little air out of the high-flying and falutin’ formulaic balloon and tweak away and revise, revise, revise: “Write, write, write. And above all, write about the things that move you, not what you think an editor or publisher wants. I’m not saying you have to write what you know. Frankly, that ethos has led to a lot of boring, self-involved novels and short stories.” Erik Larson continues, “Only by following your own vision can you hope to create something new.” [Italics mine, all mine, mind you.]

Larson’s vision has always focused on compelling narrative history, including his Edgar Award winning The Devil in the White City, about the architect of the great Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the serial killer who used the exposition to ensnare his victims. Isaac’s Storm chronicles how the massive hurricane of September 1900 killed as many as 10,000 in Galveston alone, and led to new thinking about the causes and effects of hurricanes. And juxtaposing scientific intrigue with murder at the turn of the 20th century London, Thunderstruck tells the true crime tale of two disparate men, the genius Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of wireless transatlantic communication, and the notorious English killer Dr. H.H. Crippen.

For Larson, the research with which he delves for each project more than rubs off in readership appeal and enticing and informative entertainment. “I love looking for pieces of things in far-flung archives … the beauty is that the complexity of the characters is there,” he once said in an interview. “You don’t have to make it up.” The enjoyment and enriched tradition carries forward in In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. It’s the account of Berlin, circa 1933 1934, from the increasingly perceptive eyes of two Americans, President Roosevelt’s ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, an academic historian who hoped Nazism would somehow lose steam, and Dodd’s daughter Martha, a 24-year-old free spirit who appreciated Nazism’s vitality and the social life and love affairs she soon found. At first this new world seemed full of novelty and new horizons, but slowly — until the calamitous weekend that changed them all forever – disenchantment and dark clouds of intrigue and dread fell over the whole Dodd family.

As confirmation of Jewish persecution solidifies, as the press is censored, and alarming new laws enacted, William Dodd telegraphs his apprehensions to a largely unresponsive State Department back home. In addition to amassing chilling details about oppressive everyday life, Larson also offers portraits based on primary-source impressions of Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Hitler himself – tense reminders about the nuanced build-up of evil that speaks convincingly about why the world did not initially recognize the menacing threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were drenched in blood and terror.


The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power
by Geoffrey Dunn

Innocent Spouse: A Memoir
by Carol Ross Joynt

The Living Lincoln
by Thomas A. Horrocks (Editor), Harold Holzer (Editor), Frank J. Williams (Editor)

The Notes: Ronald Reagan’s Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom
by Ronald Reagan

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
by Jon Ronson

Stan Musial: An American Life
by George Vecsey


Buried Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #21)
by John Sandford

What Happened to Goodbye
by Sarah Dessen

The Forgotten Locket (Hourglass Door Trilogy Series #3)
by Lisa Mangum

The Snowman
by Jo Nesbo

Those in Peril
by Wilbur Smith

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