Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

Summary:  Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that 'The Devil in the White City' is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. (Summary and image taken from

My ReviewThe Devil in the White City was my January challenge to myself – part of my new goal to read one classic or nonfiction book a month. 

What a way to start out!

I love living in (okay, occasionally visiting) Chicago, and my favorite part is the architectural awesomeness of the city.  It’s so diverse, so beautiful, that even though I’m not artistically gifted, I can get lost in appreciating it. Given the chance to read about the nearly insurmountable task of building the World’s Colombian Expo in Chicago, knowing that two of those buildings still stand, was amazing.  Throw in a madman, AND a serial killer to boot, and, for the life of me, I don’t know why it took me two and a half weeks to finish the book!

The descriptions Larson offers of the fair, of the planning, planting, and building that were so rushed but that worked so well made me forget that the fair wasn’t still going on.  More than once in the last couple of days (when I’ve finally had time to read), I’ve nearly picked up the phone to ask my husband if we could attend the fair this weekend.  Never mind that the fair took place over 120 years ago, I want to go!

My Rating:  Four stars.  Definitely.  If I can forget which century I’m living in, the author’s done a good job!

Sum it Up:  A detailed account of three separate fates; those of the World’s Fair and Chicago; of Dr. Holmes, the charming serial killer; and of madman Pendergrast and how the three intertwined to create a memorable, almost-larger-than-life tale.  Read it, and then come find out why we’re the “Windy City”!

For the Sensitive Reader:
The descriptions of what investigators found in Holmes’ Castle and of his other “homes” are disquieting, but would offer the only qualm I’d have to recommend this to anyone.

All right readers, what's my February "Challenge"?  Do I go nonfiction or classic?  Suggestions, please!


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

We read this for book club a few years ago...definitely a club favorite and great discussion.

mejores libros said...

The descriptions Larson offers of the fair, of the planning, planting, and building that were so rushed but that worked so well made me forget that the fair wasn’t still going on. Such a really very interesting book review.


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