From the Blog

Your Questions Answered

Feel free to send me questions about writing, my work, whatever. From time to time I'll choose one and answer it in my blog as frankly as possible.

Ask Your Question

From Flickr

The Books

Dead Wake

The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat.

Read More

In the Garden of Beasts

Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

The saga of an American father and daughter who in July 1933 suddenly found themselves, and the rest of their family, transported to the heart of Hitler's Berlin. The father was William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered history professor from Chicago who, much to his surprise and everyone else's, was chosen by Roosevelt to be America's first ambassador to Nazi Germany; Dodd's daughter, Martha, was 24 years old and came along for the adventure, and to escape a dead marriage. At first this new world seemed full of energy and goodwill, nothing like what newspapers back home had portrayed. But slowly a pall of intrigue and terror fell over the family--until the cataclysmic weekend that changed them all forever.

Read More

Thunderstruck

The true story of how the lives of the inventor of wireless and of Britain's second most-famous murderer (after Jack the Ripper) intersected during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time. The inventor was Guglielmo Marconi, the young Italian genius; the killer was Hawley Harvey Crippen, who murdered his overbearing wife and fled Britain with his mistress, unaware that Scotland Yard was hot on his heels. The book—an instant New York Times bestseller—brings to life a host of forgotten characters, including spirit mediums, ghost-hunting physicists, Scotland Yard inspectors, and one of the great pioneers of forensic science. The climax occurs during a trans-Atlantic chase which, thanks to the miracle of Marconi's invention, was followed by millions of people around the world—with Crippen and his mistress completely unaware.

Read More

The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

The No. 1 New York Times bestseller about the architect who led the construction of the great Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and the prolific serial killer who used the fair as a lure. Just blocks from the fairgrounds, the killer built a hotel of horrors equipped with an acid vat, dissection table and crematorium. The book won an Edgar Award for best fact-crime writing, and was a finalist for a National Book Award. In November 2010, Leonardo DiCaprio acquired the rights to make a feature film based on Devil, and has stated he plans to play the role of the killer, Dr. H. H. Holmes.

Read More

Isaac's Storm

A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

At the turn of the last century, Isaac Cline, chief weatherman for Texas, believed no storm could do serious harm to the city of Galveston, a fast growing metropolis on the Gulf Coast destined for great things. In September 1900 a massive hurricane proved him wrong, at great personal cost. The storm killed as many as 10,000 people in Galveston alone, stole the city's future, and caused hurricane experts to revise their thinking about how hurricanes kill. The book won the American Meteorology Society's prestigious Louis J. Battan Author's Award. (For the record, of all my books, this is my wife's favorite--EL.)

Read More

Lethal Passage

The Story of a Gun

When I lived in Baltimore, I became struck by the frequency of drive-by shootings involving young teens who possessed sophisticated weapons. At the time, no one bothered to find out where the guns came from. I decided to try. The result was this book, which tells the story of how a particular model of handgun, designed initially for urban warfare, became the crime-gun of choice for inner-city gangs, and how one such gun came to be in the hands of a Virginia schoolboy who used it to kill a teacher. Only a malfunction in the weapon prevented this incident from becoming one of the worst mass murders of all time. In the course of my research, I became a federally licensed gun dealer and took lessons in shooting for self-defense. I have to say, the shooting was a lot of fun, although I was the only guy in my class and the gleeful laughter of the women around me, as they blasted away at clearly masculine targets, was just a tiny bit disconcerting.

Read More

The Naked Consumer

How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities

After receiving a sudden surge of junk mail directed at new parents—even though my wife at the time was merely pregnant—I set out to explore the lengths companies go to spy on individual consumers. It was fascinating, and a little scary. For example, I discovered one market-research firm that put human spies in stores to follow every move a shopper made, and another company that secretly commandeered viewers' televisions to show them commercials no one else got to see. The book became the subject of a PBS documentary, "We Know Where You Live," in which yours truly was the main character. I even got to slink around in a trench coat and lurk behind trees.

Read More