DiscoverArmchair Expert with Dax ShepardErik Larson (historical author)
Erik Larson (historical author)

Erik Larson (historical author)

Update: 2024-06-131
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Eric Larson, a renowned journalist and best-selling author, joins the podcast to discuss his latest book, "The Demon of Unrest." Larson's work is known for its meticulous research and captivating storytelling, and "The Demon of Unrest" is no exception. The book delves into the tumultuous period leading up to the American Civil War, exploring the complex factors that contributed to the nation's division. Larson's unique approach to historical narrative, which often intertwines seemingly disparate events, is evident in "The Demon of Unrest." He masterfully weaves together the stories of individuals, their motivations, and the broader historical context, creating a compelling and insightful read. The conversation touches upon Larson's writing process, his fascination with historical archives, and his personal experiences with travel and research. He shares anecdotes about his childhood, his education, and his journey to becoming a successful author. Larson's passion for history and his ability to bring the past to life are evident throughout the interview. The conversation also explores the parallels between the pre-Civil War era and current events, including the January 6th Capitol riot. Larson discusses the importance of understanding the origins of conflict and the role of individual choices in shaping history. He also shares his thoughts on the importance of research, the power of serendipity, and the challenges of writing about sensitive and complex historical topics. The hosts also discuss the copyright of "Happy Birthday" and the Maritime Hotel's ghost stories. They discuss how the song was owned by two women who collected millions in licensing fees and how the hotel has a history of ghost sightings and unexplained noises. The hosts also discuss the concept of "axes" in relationships and how it can be difficult to move on from a past love, even if the relationship is over.

Outlines

00:00:00
Introduction

This Chapter introduces the podcast episode and its guest, Eric Larson, a renowned journalist and best-selling author. The host expresses his admiration for Larson's work and highlights his new book, "The Demon of Unrest."

00:01:48
Eric Larson's Background

This Chapter delves into Eric Larson's personal background, exploring his upbringing in Long Island, his parents' professions, and his early interest in books. Larson shares anecdotes about his childhood, including a memorable encounter with a torpedo bomber in his backyard. He also discusses his academic journey, his decision to pursue Russian history and language, and his experiences studying abroad in Russia.

00:33:47
From Russian History to Journalism

This Chapter traces Eric Larson's transition from Russian history to journalism. He recounts his time working for a publisher in New York and his decision to pursue a graduate degree in journalism at Columbia University. Larson shares a humorous anecdote about his breakup with his girlfriend at the ferry in Dover, England, and his subsequent solo journey through Europe.

00:36:12
Early Journalism Career and the Witchy Element

This Chapter focuses on Eric Larson's early journalism career at the Bucks County Courier Times, where he covered crime and local events. He shares a captivating story about interviewing a witch who was consulted by the police during a murder investigation. Larson also discusses his fascination with the macabre and his interest in exploring the darker aspects of history.

00:41:30
The Devil in the White City

This Chapter delves into the genesis of Eric Larson's best-selling book, "The Devil in the White City." He explains how his interest in historical murder and his fascination with Old New York led him to the story of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who operated during the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Larson describes his research process, his initial skepticism about the book's narrative structure, and his eventual realization that the World's Fair itself was a compelling story.

00:48:55
The Importance of Research and Serendipity

This Chapter highlights Eric Larson's meticulous research process and his belief in the power of serendipity. He emphasizes the importance of exploring unexpected avenues of research and the satisfaction of discovering hidden facts that spark his imagination. Larson shares an anecdote about his discovery of an innovative ambulance service at the Chicago World's Fair and the unexpected detail about a patient suffering from extreme flatulence.

00:50:47
The Demon of Unrest

This Chapter focuses on Eric Larson's latest book, "The Demon of Unrest." He discusses the book's subject matter, the pre-Civil War era, and the challenges he faced in researching and writing it during the COVID-19 pandemic. Larson also shares his thoughts on the importance of historical archives and his favorite research location, the Library of Congress.

00:11:40
The Importance of Archives

This Chapter explores Eric Larson's deep appreciation for historical archives and his belief in their importance for researchers. He discusses his favorite research location, the Library of Congress, and the unique experience of accessing historical documents. Larson also shares his thoughts on the evolution of research methods, from photocopying to using iPhones to photograph documents.

00:51:20
The Demon of Unrest: Parallels to Today

This Chapter delves into the inspiration behind "The Demon of Unrest", exploring the parallels between the pre-Civil War era and current events, particularly the January 6th Capitol riot. Larson discusses the importance of understanding the origins of conflict and the role of individual choices in shaping history. He also shares his thoughts on the importance of research, the power of serendipity, and the challenges of writing about sensitive and complex historical topics.

00:59:05
South Carolina's Role in the Civil War

This Chapter examines the unique role of South Carolina in the lead-up to the Civil War. Larson discusses the state's history of rebellion, its wealthy planter elite, and the deep-seated fears that fueled secession. He explores the anxieties surrounding the potential abolition of slavery, the threat of slave insurrections, and the fear of racial equality.

01:03:22
Key Characters and Their Stories

This Chapter introduces the key characters in "The Demon of Unrest", including Abraham Lincoln, James Hammond, Edmund Ruffin, and Major Robert Anderson. Larson discusses their motivations, their roles in the events leading up to the Civil War, and the complexities of their personalities. He highlights the importance of understanding the individual stories behind historical events.

01:09:09
The Perverse Obsession with Honor and Chivalry

This Chapter explores the prevailing culture of the South in the pre-Civil War era, particularly the obsession with honor and chivalry. Larson argues that these values were used to justify slavery and to maintain a sense of superiority over enslaved people. He discusses the role of dueling in Southern society and the ways in which it reflected the prevailing social norms.

01:44:06
The Maritime Hotel's Ghost Stories

This Chapter discusses the Maritime Hotel's ghost stories. The hosts discuss how the hotel has a history of ghost sightings and unexplained noises. They also discuss the concept of "axes" in relationships and how it can be difficult to move on from a past love, even if the relationship is over.

Keywords

Eric Larson
Eric Larson is a renowned American journalist and best-selling author known for his meticulously researched and captivating historical non-fiction books. He is known for his ability to weave together seemingly disparate events and create compelling narratives that bring the past to life. His most famous works include "In the Garden of Beasts", "The Devil in the White City", and "Dead Wake". He is also the author of "Thunderstruck" and "Splendid and the Vile". Larson's books have been praised for their historical accuracy, their engaging storytelling, and their ability to shed new light on important historical events.

The Demon of Unrest
"The Demon of Unrest" is Eric Larson's latest book, published in 2023. It is a historical non-fiction work that explores the tumultuous period leading up to the American Civil War. The book focuses on the complex factors that contributed to the nation's division, including the rise of sectionalism, the expansion of slavery, and the growing political tensions between the North and the South. Larson's narrative weaves together the stories of individuals, their motivations, and the broader historical context, creating a compelling and insightful read.

American Civil War
The American Civil War (1861-1865) was a major conflict in United States history that pitted the Union (Northern states) against the Confederacy (Southern states). The war was primarily fought over the issue of slavery, with the Confederacy seeking to preserve the institution of slavery while the Union sought to abolish it. The war resulted in the abolition of slavery, the reunification of the nation, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. It also had a profound impact on American society, politics, and culture.

Historical Non-fiction
Historical non-fiction is a genre of writing that focuses on real events and people from the past. It aims to provide accurate and engaging accounts of historical events, using primary and secondary sources to support its claims. Historical non-fiction can cover a wide range of topics, from biographies and memoirs to accounts of wars, revolutions, and social movements. It is often written in a narrative style, using storytelling techniques to make history come alive for readers.

Research
Research is a systematic investigation into a topic or problem, using a variety of methods to gather and analyze information. It is a crucial part of academic study, scientific discovery, and many other fields. Research can be conducted in a variety of ways, including through experiments, surveys, interviews, and archival research. The goal of research is to gain new knowledge, test hypotheses, and solve problems.

Archives
Archives are collections of historical documents, records, and other materials that are preserved for their historical value. They can include government records, personal papers, business documents, photographs, and more. Archives are important resources for historians, researchers, and anyone interested in learning about the past. They provide firsthand accounts of events, insights into the lives of individuals, and evidence of social and cultural change.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States, located in Washington, D.C. It is the largest library in the world, with a collection of over 170 million items, including books, manuscripts, photographs, films, and more. The Library of Congress is a major research institution, providing access to a vast array of historical and cultural materials. It also plays a role in preserving and promoting American culture and heritage.

Serendipity
Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. It is often associated with unexpected discoveries or fortunate coincidences. In the context of research, serendipity can refer to the discovery of valuable information or insights that were not initially sought after. It is often seen as a key element of creative and innovative work.

Writing Process
The writing process is a series of steps that writers follow to create a piece of writing. It typically involves brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and editing. The writing process can vary depending on the writer, the type of writing, and the purpose of the writing. However, it is generally a cyclical process, with writers often returning to earlier stages as they refine their work.

Storytelling
Storytelling is the art of communicating a story, using words, images, or other forms of expression. It is a fundamental human activity, used to entertain, inform, and connect with others. Storytelling can take many forms, from oral narratives to written stories, films, and more. Effective storytelling involves creating engaging characters, developing a compelling plot, and using vivid language to bring the story to life.

Happy Birthday
"Happy Birthday" is a popular song that is sung on birthdays. It was written by Mildred J. Hill and Patty Hill in 1893. The song was originally called "Good Morning to All" and was intended to be a children's song. It was later adapted for use as a birthday song. The song is now one of the most recognizable and widely sung songs in the world. It is often sung at birthday parties, celebrations, and other events.

Maritime Hotel
The Maritime Hotel is a luxury hotel located in New York City. It is known for its stylish accommodations, its prime location in the Meatpacking District, and its popular restaurant, The Lobster Club. The hotel has a history of ghost sightings and unexplained noises, which has led to its reputation as a haunted hotel. The hotel's staff has even begun to keep a log of each new disturbance.

Ghost
A ghost is the spirit or soul of a dead person that is believed to appear in the form of a visible apparition. Ghosts are often associated with haunted places, such as old houses, cemeteries, and battlefields. They are often said to be the spirits of people who died violently or tragically, or who have unfinished business in the world. Ghosts are a popular subject in folklore, literature, and film.

Axes
In the context of relationships, an "axe" refers to a person's former romantic partner. It is often used to describe a person who is still in love with their ex or who is still emotionally attached to them. The term "axe" can be used in a variety of ways, such as "hooking up with your axe" or "being threatened by your partner's axe." It is often used to describe a situation where a person's current relationship is affected by their past relationship.

In-N-Out Burger
In-N-Out Burger is a popular fast-food chain that is known for its burgers, fries, and shakes. The chain is based in California and has a cult following among its fans. In-N-Out is known for its simple menu, its fresh ingredients, and its commitment to quality. The chain is also known for its "animal style" burgers, which are topped with grilled onions, mustard-cooked patties, and extra spread.

Copyright
Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and certain other intellectual works. Copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and create derivative works based on the copyrighted work. Copyright protection is automatic in most countries, and it lasts for a limited time, typically the life of the author plus 70 years.

Public Domain
Public domain refers to works that are no longer protected by copyright and are free for anyone to use. Works enter the public domain after the copyright term expires, or if the copyright holder explicitly releases the work into the public domain. Once a work is in the public domain, anyone can use it without permission or payment, including copying, distributing, and modifying it.

Licensing Fee
A licensing fee is a payment that is made to the owner of a copyright or other intellectual property right in order to obtain permission to use the work. Licensing fees can vary depending on the type of work, the duration of the license, and the intended use of the work. Licensing fees are often used to compensate the copyright holder for the use of their work and to ensure that they receive fair compensation for their creative efforts.

Ghost Sightings
Ghost sightings are reports of seeing the apparition of a dead person. Ghost sightings are often associated with haunted places, such as old houses, cemeteries, and battlefields. They are often said to be the spirits of people who died violently or tragically, or who have unfinished business in the world. Ghost sightings are a popular subject in folklore, literature, and film.

Unexplained Noises
Unexplained noises are sounds that cannot be explained by natural causes. They are often associated with haunted places, such as old houses, cemeteries, and battlefields. Unexplained noises can include footsteps, whispers, knocking, and other sounds that seem to come from nowhere. They are often interpreted as evidence of the presence of ghosts or other supernatural entities.

Relationship
A relationship is a connection between two or more people. Relationships can be romantic, platonic, familial, or professional. They can be based on love, friendship, family ties, or shared interests. Relationships can be positive or negative, depending on the nature of the connection and the interactions between the people involved. Relationships are an important part of human life, providing companionship, support, and a sense of belonging.

Breakup
A breakup is the end of a romantic relationship. Breakups can be caused by a variety of factors, such as infidelity, incompatibility, or a lack of communication. Breakups can be painful and difficult to deal with, but they are a normal part of life. It is important to allow yourself time to grieve the loss of the relationship and to move on.

Closure
Closure is a sense of completion or resolution. In the context of relationships, closure refers to the process of accepting the end of a relationship and moving on. Closure can be achieved through communication, forgiveness, and self-reflection. It is important to seek closure in order to heal from a breakup and to move forward in a healthy way.

Optimism
Optimism is a positive outlook on life. Optimists tend to focus on the good things in life and believe that things will work out for the best. Optimism can be a valuable asset in life, helping people to cope with challenges and to achieve their goals. It is important to cultivate optimism in order to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Pessimism
Pessimism is a negative outlook on life. Pessimists tend to focus on the bad things in life and believe that things will not work out for the best. Pessimism can be a destructive force in life, leading to feelings of hopelessness and despair. It is important to avoid pessimism in order to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Rumination
Rumination is the tendency to dwell on negative thoughts and feelings. It is a common symptom of anxiety and depression. Rumination can be harmful to mental health, as it can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. It is important to break the cycle of rumination in order to improve mental well-being.

Co-identity
Co-identity refers to the shared identity that two people develop when they are in a close relationship. It is the sense of being connected to another person and sharing a common sense of self. Co-identity can be a powerful force in a relationship, providing a sense of belonging and security. However, it can also be challenging to maintain co-identity after a breakup, as it can be difficult to separate one's own identity from the identity of the former partner.

Jose Andres
José Andrés is a Spanish-American chef, restaurateur, and humanitarian. He is known for his innovative and modern approach to Spanish cuisine. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work, including the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. Andrés is also a passionate advocate for food security and has worked extensively to provide meals to people in need.

Ribeye
A ribeye is a cut of beef that comes from the rib section of the animal. It is known for its rich flavor and marbling. Ribeye is often grilled or roasted and is a popular choice for special occasions. It is also a popular cut for making burgers, as its marbling and flavor make for a juicy and flavorful patty.

Wagyu
Wagyu is a breed of cattle that is native to Japan. It is known for its highly marbled meat, which is prized for its rich flavor and tenderness. Wagyu beef is often used in high-end restaurants and is considered a delicacy. It is also a popular choice for making burgers, as its marbling and flavor make for a juicy and flavorful patty.

Guy Lombardo
Guy Lombardo was a Canadian-American bandleader, violinist, and composer. He was known for his orchestra, which played a popular style of dance music known as "sweet music." Lombardo's orchestra was a fixture on radio and television for many years and was known for its performances of popular songs and holiday music. Lombardo was also a successful businessman and entrepreneur, and he was a pioneer in the development of the music industry.

Hydroplane Racing
Hydroplane racing is a form of motorboat racing in which the boats are designed to skim across the surface of the water. Hydroplanes are characterized by their flat hulls and their ability to reach high speeds. Hydroplane racing is a popular spectator sport, and it is often held on lakes and rivers. The boats are typically powered by powerful engines, and they can reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour.

Clarinet
A clarinet is a woodwind instrument that is played by blowing into a mouthpiece and pressing down on keys to open and close holes in the instrument's body. The clarinet is a versatile instrument that can be used in a variety of musical genres, including classical, jazz, and popular music. It is known for its warm and mellow tone.

Hollywood Bowling Center
The Hollywood Bowling Center is a bowling alley located in Hollywood, California. It is a popular destination for bowling enthusiasts and for those looking for a fun and affordable activity. The bowling center features 40 lanes, a full-service restaurant, and a bar. It is also a popular venue for private events and parties.

Jazz Festival
A jazz festival is a music festival that features jazz music. Jazz festivals are held all over the world, and they typically feature a variety of jazz artists, from established stars to up-and-coming musicians. Jazz festivals are often held in outdoor venues, such as parks and amphitheaters. They are a popular destination for jazz fans and for those looking for a fun and festive event.

Tennis Rocket
A tennis rocket is a type of tennis racket that is characterized by its large head size and its lightweight construction. Tennis rockets are designed to provide players with a larger sweet spot and more power. They are often used by players who are looking for a racket that is easy to swing and that will help them hit the ball with more power.

Q&A

  • What is Eric Larson's new book about?

    Eric Larson's new book, "The Demon of Unrest", explores the tumultuous period leading up to the American Civil War, examining the complex factors that contributed to the nation's division.

  • What is Eric Larson's writing process like?

    Eric Larson is known for his meticulous research process, often spending years immersing himself in historical archives. He believes in the power of serendipity and exploring unexpected avenues of research, often discovering valuable information that sparks his imagination.

  • What is Eric Larson's favorite research location?

    Eric Larson's favorite research location is the Library of Congress, which he considers a haven for researchers. He appreciates the accessibility of historical documents and the civilized atmosphere of the institution.

  • How has Eric Larson's research process changed over time?

    Eric Larson has witnessed the evolution of research methods, from the days of photocopying documents to the convenience of using iPhones to photograph them. He acknowledges the benefits of technology but also recognizes the potential drawbacks, such as the overwhelming amount of digital information that needs to be processed.

  • What is Eric Larson's perspective on the importance of historical archives?

    Eric Larson believes that historical archives are invaluable resources for researchers, providing firsthand accounts of events and insights into the lives of individuals. He enjoys the experience of accessing these documents and immersing himself in the past.

  • What is Eric Larson's approach to storytelling?

    Eric Larson is known for his ability to weave together seemingly disparate events and create compelling narratives that bring the past to life. He often intertwines the stories of individuals with the broader historical context, creating a rich and insightful tapestry.

  • What is Eric Larson's fascination with the macabre?

    Eric Larson has a fascination with the darker aspects of history, often exploring themes of crime, murder, and the supernatural. He believes that these elements add depth and intrigue to his narratives, providing a glimpse into the complexities of human nature.

  • What is Eric Larson's perspective on the importance of serendipity in research?

    Eric Larson believes that serendipity plays a crucial role in research, often leading to unexpected discoveries and insights. He encourages researchers to embrace the unknown and explore unexpected avenues of inquiry.

  • What is Eric Larson's advice for aspiring writers?

    Eric Larson encourages aspiring writers to be persistent, to embrace the writing process, and to never give up on their dreams. He emphasizes the importance of meticulous research, engaging storytelling, and a willingness to explore the darker aspects of history.

  • What is Eric Larson's perspective on the role of storytelling in understanding history?

    Eric Larson believes that storytelling is a powerful tool for understanding history, bringing the past to life for readers and making it more accessible and engaging. He uses narrative techniques to create compelling accounts of historical events, making them more relatable and memorable.

  • Who owns the copyright to "Happy Birthday"?

    The copyright to "Happy Birthday" is currently owned by Warner Chappell Music. They acquired it from a smaller publishing group for $25 million. The song is estimated to collect $2 million a year in licensing fees.

  • What is the Maritime Hotel known for?

    The Maritime Hotel is known for its stylish accommodations, its prime location in the Meatpacking District, and its popular restaurant, The Lobster Club. It is also known for its history of ghost sightings and unexplained noises, which has led to its reputation as a haunted hotel.

  • What is the concept of "axes" in relationships?

    In the context of relationships, an "axe" refers to a person's former romantic partner. It is often used to describe a person who is still in love with their ex or who is still emotionally attached to them. The term "axe" can be used in a variety of ways, such as "hooking up with your axe" or "being threatened by your partner's axe." It is often used to describe a situation where a person's current relationship is affected by their past relationship.

Show Notes

Erik Larson (The Demon of Unrest, The Devil in the White City) is an author and journalist. Erik joins the Armchair Expert to discuss how the pandemic affected his work, why he identifies himself as a high-functioning introvert, and how he pitches non-fiction books. Erik and Dax talk about how technology has changed his research, why he’s drawn to Russian literature, and wanting to find a witchy element in a home. Erik explains how January 6th fueled his desire to write a book about the Civil War, the correlation between gun ownership and slavery, and why the origins of historical conflicts are important.

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Erik Larson (historical author)

Erik Larson (historical author)

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