Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Devil in the White City

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson is a fascinating book. It's one part true crime, one part architecture, two parts biography, and one part cultural history.

(I should note here that UMF doesn't own a physical copy - though we'd be glad to get one for you through request from MaineCat - but we do have access to an ebook version - click on the Ebrary Subscription link on that page.)

The events of Devil in the White City take place before and during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, a massive undertaking by the city (and the country) to display the best of American ingenuity, creative thought, and all sorts of other things. Well-known architect, Danial Burnham was working on plans to display Chicago's space for the Fair to its full advantage.

At the same time, a serial murderer was setting up in the city. H. H. Holmes (as he was known) acquired property in Chicago, designing and building a hotel that was both business and deathtrap. Over the course of the Fair, he killed a large number of people, finally to be caught 

What makes this book fascinating is the interweaving of the two stories: creation and imagination on one hand, death and misery on the other. Larson does an amazing job wrapping the two together, and putting them in the larger context of 1890s Chicago. Larson is also thoughtful about the more graphic details he includes, given the subject matter.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book. I'm a big fan of Chicago, architecture, history, and true crime, so he really couldn't miss. He made it all very exciting and very real, and I enjoyed it immensely. I also liked his earlier book, Isaac's Storm, about the giant hurricane of 1900 that devastated Galveston, TX. I think it still ranks as the country's worst natural disaster . . . (the hurricane, not the book). A gripping read!