Last night my mom and I went to a “Literary Evening” at the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh. It was the first of the 2012-13 Literary Evening Monday Night Lecture Series and the speaker was Erik Larson, one of my favorite authors. I absolutely loved his The Devil in the White City and enjoyed Thunderstruck, so I was so happy to get to see him speak. He was intelligent and funny. He talked about how he comes up with book ideas and his research process. He gave a bit of information for writers – read voraciously and promiscuously – and mentioned that two of his books are currently, hopefully, on the way to becoming movies.
This is the first of these Literary Evenings I’ve been to, and I have to admit I was suprised by how packed the hall was. It has a seating capacity of 1,950 and it was probably 95% filled. We were at the back of the second balcony, and all I had was my phone, so forgive the poor quality photo. The format for the evening was good. First he gave his lecture then it was opened to questions from the audience. After that, Larson was available in the foyer to sign books, but we left because the hour drive home on a school night makes it a late evening. It was interesting to that at the begining of the Q and A portion, Larson asked the audience how many of us read solely on e-readers, solely traditional books, or a combination. I would say a large majority said they only read paperbacks or hardbacks, and very few, if any, said they only use e-readers.
Larson is currently promoting his new book, In the Garden of Beasts. I just started reading it, but here’s the blurb:
The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.
A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming–yet wholly sinister–Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.
The line-up for the remainder of the lecture series is a great list. If you’re near the Pittsburgh area, check out the schedule at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures website.