Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

Title: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Author: Erik Larson
Pages: 447 pages
Release Date: February 10, 2004
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: History; Crime
My Rating: 1/5

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.

Architect proverbial dick swinging juxtaposed with a lady killer. I so did not care. This book was the sloggiest of slogs.

I think direct quotes should still be used when writing narrative-style history to avoid confusion. For example, Erik Larson writes at one point (about women), "The city toughened them quickly, however. Best to catch them at the start of their ascent toward freedom, in transit from small places, when they were anonymous, lost, their presence recorded nowhere." Was this an actual quote taken from the killer's personal diary or is this Larson's own douchey, creepy assessment?

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