Episode 91: Abbott Kahler

Abbott Kahler is the author of four books of historical narrative nonfiction. More recently, though, she wrote the story “How Sara Gruen Lost Her Life.” It was published simultaneously by New York magazine and The Marshall Project.

The piece is about how Gruen, the famed author of “Water for Elephants,” was left broke and seriously ill after fighting for six years to free an incarcerated man who she thought was innocent.

Kahler and Gruen are close friends. Kahler says it was cathartic for Gruen to talk about what she had been through. The story got a lot of traction when it was published on March 24, giving more attention to the case of Charles Murdoch, the man Gruen is trying to free.

This was definitely a different type of writing and reporting for Kahler. She’s made a name for herself as a New York Times best-selling author of historical narrative nonfiction. She’s done so under the name of Karen Abbott, although she legally changed her name in 2020, and will now write as Abbott Kahler.

Her first book, “Sin in the Second City,” is about two sisters who ran a famous brothel in Chicago in the early 1900s. Her book “Liar Temptress Soldier Spy” is about four women who worked undercover during the Civil War. Her most recent book, “The Ghosts of Eden Park,” is about a bootleg king in Cincinnati and a shocking murder in 1927. It was an Edgar Award finalist for best fact crime book.

Kahler has written for the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other publications. She also maintains the Wicked History Blog, which presents old photos and short reported pieces that describe the photos. She’s currently working on her fifth book, “Then Came the Devil.”

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