Reviews

The Devil in the White City by: Erik Larson

I have been looking forward to reading this one all year. Isaac’s Storm is to this day one of those books that I get butterflies when I think about it. Not that it’s a happy book,  per se, but because it was a wonderful and thorough description of a piece of history that includes my passion of weather.  I’ll be honest, this review might be more of a gush…

This book qualifies as nonfiction, but it really doesn’t read that way. I know when some people think of nonfiction, they imagine big technical books. This book solidified my belief that “If you hate nonfiction, you just haven’t found the right book”. Because of it being true, it’s not really possible to critique the world building or the imagination behind it.

Larson tediously researches everything, including communications between the individuals. (As you can tell from the index!) Because of this, you get an idea of what these real life men and women were like and what motivated or plagued them.

The story focuses on Burnham from the architecture firm hired to build the fair, and the now-famous H.H. Holmes. By switching between the two, we get a pretty complete picture of what they were doing leading up to and during the fair.

When I finally picked up this book, I was so nervous. This isn’t something I experience too often. “What if it’s not as good?” “What if I only love Isaac’s Storm because of weather?” As I read my fears subsided. This book pulled me in so completely that I still haven’t stopped thinking about it.

This has been made easy, as I learned so much about the 1893 World’s Fair and how the impact is still being felt today. That was a fun part of reading this, realizing that it impacted many industries and formed famous people or everyday objects. A few examples are the Ferris Wheel, Shredded Wheat and Walt Disney.

Despite this all being fact, there were definitely times I felt disbelief. First of all, there is only one building still standing from this grand city. The descriptions made it seem so otherworldly, and it remains that way a bit because the photos are all in black and white, and could never capture the whole thing. But reading this book was to experience it alongside many visitors, while also understanding the pressures Burnham felt to complete it and have it run smoothly.

The other element of disbelief was that of H. H. Holmes. I believe I have heard his name used before, but nothing could prepare me for him. During a time when things were still very buttoned up and proper, this man took every advantage he could find. Women wanting to experience something new, credit and tax laws, the Fair itself. To this day he is a man beyond comprehension. He was so elusive that he killed people and sold their bodies to science without ever raising the suspicions of law enforcement. No one really knows how many people he killed, but he built his business to suit his “needs”. The only reason he was discovered was because he killed a family of children. That should give you a general idea of how rotten this guy was.

It’s safe to say Erik Larson did it again for me. I got so wrapped up in this I had nightmares one night. It really appealed to my enjoyment of murder mysteries but also history on a grander scale. I will definitely be keeping this one and reading it again. I would recommend this for anyone with an interest in history, but particularly serial killers and/or architecture. I think anyone will be hard pressed to find a nonfiction piece more enjoyable than this.

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