Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Devil in the White City - A Review by Hannah

I just finished The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Although the book is nonfiction, it reads like fiction.  Larson tells the story of two men in Chicago in the 1890s.  One of them, Daniel Burnham, was the head architect of the 1893 World’s Fair.  The other, H.H. Holmes, was a serial killer.  For much of the book, the chapters alternate between the stories of the two men.  Larson is a masterful storyteller, often ending a chapter with the hint of dark events yet to come.  Before I started reading, I thought I would be most intrigued by the murder plot.  I was mistaken.  I didn’t realize how little I knew about the World’s Fair until I read the book.  The fact that it even occurred is a small miracle.  All of the buildings were erected and finished in roughly two years. That was no small feat given the size and technological advances of the buildings, further made difficult by the wet soil that constantly frustrated Chicago architects and builders.  It’s  mindblowing to realize that some things we are familiar with today debuted at the World’s fair nearly 120 years ago: Shredded Wheat, for example, as well as Juicy Fruit gum.  In the other storyline, the reader gets a glimpse at a true sociopath, a terrifying serial killer.  Holmes took advantage of the steady stream of young women flocking to Chicago for the fair, and with all of the excitement in the city at the time he managed to avoid detection for years.  For fiction and nonfiction fans alike, The Devil in the White City is a riveting tale.

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