“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent…”
– Sherlock Holmes.
A non-fiction book and collection of very different essays from a huge variety of subjects across the globe, David Grann has compiled a really enjoyable read here. There are about 12 lengthy essays covering topics as far apart as the hunt for giant squids to a grown man who pretends to be a homeless lost teen (and then takes it as far as claiming to be a long-lost son and returning to that guy’s original family)…
Some of these stories are truly amazing, and this was just the sort of thing that I wanted to read about now and jump around from topic to topic.
Grann is a staff writer for the New Yorker (and has written for numerous other lit bigwigs), and I would bet that these essays first saw the light of day in that publication – they are lengthy, well written and good examples of creative non-fiction (or narrative journalism, if you’d rather).
I think this book must have taken quite a while to compile enough material for the whole manuscript as each essay involved a lot of time and travel to interview the involved parties and all their backgrounds and write all the info into one coherent whole. It’s also interesting to me that Grann doesn’t always have an answer – some of these mysteries remain just that at the end, so this definitely kept me wondering once I had finished each essay.
As mentioned, there are about 12 essays in this book, and topics are all over the place, from the possibility of the number one Sherlock Holmes fan/scholar being murdered for knowing too much to the history of the Aryan Brotherhood in US prisons. This must have been fascinating to write from Grann’s perspective (as it was from my reading perspective) and I would have loved to be in some of those interviews with him. “Fly on the wall” type of thing.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a sort of “intelligent magazine read” which covers detailed subjects in even more detail, you’ll like this book. (He also wrote “The Lost City of Z” about tracing a lost city in the Amazon, but I haven’t read that. It can’t be that bad if it’s on the same level as this book.)
For another good read from David Grann, try “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” (2016).