BELOIT, Wis.An eye for a good yarn and a penchant for uncovering lost stories from the past have won writer Erik Larson critical accolades and fans around the world. The author of such bestsellers as Isaacs Storm (1999) and The Devil in the White City (2003), Larson will deliver a presentation titled Breathing Life into the Dead: The Art of History, Monday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m., in Eaton Chapel, on the Beloit College campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Larsons books resurrect events and names that once crowded the front pages of Americas newspapers and tabloids. Using fiction-writing techniques, the author weaves together nonfiction tales that offer a vivid window into the past. Isaacs Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History chronicles the devastating hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900, while focusing on Isaac Cline, a weatherman in the nascent National Weather Service. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America traces the parallel stories of architect Daniel H. Burnham, director of works for Chicagos 1893 Columbian World Exposition, and Dr. H. H. Holmesa serial killer who preyed on visitors to the Windy City.
Larsons most recent book, Thunderstruck (2007), illuminates the invention of wireless radio communication by Guglielmo Marconi, and details how the early telegraph was successfully used to apprehend a murderer.
As a writer of narrative historical non-fiction, Larson has developed a very personal approach to research. He rarely consults the Internet, preferring to dig through dusty archives and first-person accounts without the help of assistants. In a 2003 interview with Alden Mudge for Book Page, Larson admitted his books differ significantly from volumes compiled by historians.
If I bring anything to the party, its a knack for finding the telling details, he said. What I love is the stuff that never makes it into professional history, because it belongs in the footnotes, because its not appropriate. Thats the stuff I live for.
Larsons visit to Beloit will be complemented by two fascinating exhibits on display in the museums of Beloit College. The Columbian Exposition and Beloit highlights connections between the 1893 Columbian World Exposition and the Logan Museum of Anthropology; A World in a Windy City: The Chicago Columbian Exposition features artifacts and images from the exposition. Viewed together, they provide a context for understanding how such expositions influenced popular cultural perceptions, as well as the development of museums and the discipline of anthropology.
The Columbian Exposition and Beloit is on display in the first floor gallery of the Logan Museum of Anthropology; A World in a Windy City appears in the Neese Gallery, in the Wright Museum of Art. Both will remain open through Dec. 16.
from the Oct. 10, 2007, issue