Narrative Nonfiction in Mini-Reviews

July 3, 2018 Uncategorized 19 ★★★★

Narrative Nonfiction in Mini-ReviewsTitle: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Author: Erik Larson

Like Devil in the White City, this was delightfully engaging. It was also extremely creepy to read about how people denied, minimized, or justified atrocities happening in pre-WWII Germany. It was heartbreaking to think how many lives could have been saved had people taken Hitler more seriously earlier. This personal perspective on Germany shortly before WWII was also fascinating for its novelty. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Devil in the White City though. Part of that could be that this was exactly what I expected, instead of a pleasant surprise, since it wasn’t my first book by Larson. It could also be because I never felt like our main characters needed to fear for their lives, so there was less suspense than in the serial killer story of Devil in the White City. I’m not sure, but this was at least close to as good as White City and I’d definitely recommend it.

Narrative Nonfiction in Mini-ReviewsTitle: Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling
Author: Michael Cannell

This book reminded me a lot of Larson. It wasn’t a dual narrative, but it was about a killer and it was very engaging. I couldn’t put it down. The author did a great job focusing on the people involved in this story. He really brought them to life. He also gave just enough details about different people and places to create vivid images without bogging down the story. My one small complaint is that (like Erik Larson) he makes up a few scenes or thoughts only the murderer was aware of. Fortunately, both are transparent about making things up, so this is a small gripe. However, I think both could have written engaging stories without making anything up, so I’d rather have done without it.

Narrative Nonfiction in Mini-ReviewsTitle: The Girl From Kathmandu: Twelve Dead Men and a Woman's Quest for Justice
Author: Cam Simpson

This was a fantastic read and the only one in this review that didn’t read like something by Erik Larson. It still felt familiar though. Like much of my favorite narrative nonfiction, it was gripping and suspenseful. Compared to the previous two books, the suspense in this book felt less contrived. The writing was more journalistic, less like a thriller. The events themselves kept me reading. I liked that the author relied heavily on direct quotes and primary sources. I also liked the jumping back and forth between Kamala’s life before and after her husband was killed due to the coercive practices of corrupt defense contractors. This reminded me of Toms River as much as anything else. The corrupt business practices we learn about in both are frustrating, but make for engaging reading, as you hope justice will prevail.

19 Responses to “Narrative Nonfiction in Mini-Reviews”

  1. whatsnonfiction

    I hadn’t heard of the Girl from Kathmandu, that sounds fantastic! Great review.
    It’s so funny to read your gripe with Incendiary because normally I loathe that, and yet I didn’t even notice it there. I was so caught up in the writing and story, I guess. My gripe with it was not knowing enough about the perpetrator, including whether there was truth to his claims against Con Edison.
    In the Garden of the Beasts wasn’t for me, but neither was Devil in the White City. I guess Erik Larson and I are just not made for each other!

    • DoingDewey

      Girl from Kathmandu was great! The author didn’t make much up, just little bits like what the bomber was thinking as he drove into the city with a bomb, for example. He does mention it in an afterword or forward, so that makes it bother me a lot less, but I do think he could have told a good story without it 🙂 I’d have liked to know more about whether there was any truth to his claims too. I do really like Larson, but I’m sure he’s not for everyone and I could especially see not liking him if you don’t like author’s who make bits up – that’s my main complaint with Devil in the White City, anyway.

  2. Trisha

    I have had Larson on my shelves for years and yet I still haven’t read him. I really need to get on top of that!

    • DoingDewey

      I have a few authors like that myself! I would definitely recommend giving him a try when you’re in the mood. His books are really engaging 🙂

  3. Liz Dexter

    I get cross when non-fiction writers make things up, too, although in the book I read on religion in Roman Britain the author was clear about when she was making assumptions and is a massive expert, so I didn’t mind so much. Three interesting books there.

    • DoingDewey

      It makes me a lot less annoyed if author’s are transparent about their making thing up or controversies or assumptions too 🙂

  4. Naomi

    All three of these sound good! I have In the Garden of Beasts, as well as a couple of other Larson books I haven’t read yet. Dead Wake is still my favourite. I have a thing for sea adventures (I’m not sure “adventure” is the right word!).

    • DoingDewey

      I really liked Dead Wake too and I think Devil in the White City is probably only slightly more of a favorite for me because I read it first 🙂

  5. Ann Marie

    I also enjoyed In the Garden of Beasts. I’m adding The Girl from Kathmandu to my (toppling) TBR. Great review!

  6. Kim@Time2Read

    I’ve had In The Garden of Beasts on my list for awhile. I enjoyed Devil in White City enough to read it twice. I probably don’t get as irritated as you when the author ‘invents’ thoughts, especially if he or she is clear on the liberties taken. But I guess I’d have to admit there are times when I’ve screamed in my brain “How do you KNOW that???”

    • DoingDewey

      I really liked Devil in the White City too! And I’m a lot less bothered if the author mentions that they made something up, but I do still find it annoying if I don’t think it improves the story. I do also often find myself wishing for more in-text citations and wondering how the author knows particular things.

  7. Shay

    I agree that In the Garden of Beasts isn’t quite as good as Devil in the White City, and Beasts was actually my first Larson book. That said, I find myself recommending Beasts more often these days. I even did it with my book club this past year.

    • DoingDewey

      Sadly, Beasts does feel particularly relevant lately. It was amazing to me how people ignored such clear signs that something was terribly wrong.

  1. #TLCBookTour: Resistance Women - Doing DeweyDoing Dewey

    […] Dodd is the most well known of the four, as the American ambassador’s daughter featured in In the Garden of the Beasts. She plays the most minor role here. Two other women, German Greta and American Mildred, were real […]

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