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clifhostetler

Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America - Tony Goldwyn, Erik Larson Pride of accomplishments juxtaposed to unrelated but concurrent horrible evil, that's the overview summary of this book. Which leads to the question, was this book a best seller in 2004-5 because readers were interested in the 1894 World’s Columbian Exposition, or because of their prurient fascination with a serial killer? I've avoided reading this book for seven years because I was repulsed at the thought of reading about a serial killer, but was finally pushed into reading it because of a book group I attend. My suspicions regarding the appeal of this book were somewhat confirmed by the discussion that took place in the meeting of this book group; more time was spent discussing the serial killer story than the world’s fair part.

I recently read a similar book, Eiffel's Tower, about the Paris World's Fair of 1889. It didn't become a best seller, I am sure, because it didn't have a parallel serial killer story. Another book I thought of while reading this book was Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser because it is about a young woman moving to Chicago at about this time in history.

I must compliment the author in combining a wide diversity of historical subjects and facts into a single narrative to make an enthralling read. The book as a whole ends up being more than the sum of its parts due to the writing skills of the author. However, the author uses a few more adjectives than necessary and indulges in some imaginative recreation of details and dialogue that seem a bit out of place for non-fiction (i.e. it's non-academic writing).

The following is a review of this book from PageADay's 2008 Book Lover's Calendar:

KILLER NONFICTION
The White City, the heart of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, stood resplendent in Chicago, proclaiming the rise of American arts and industry and the American Dream. This is the story of its leading architect, Daniel Burnham. It is also the story of Dr. H. H. Holmes, who might be called the architect of the American Nightmare. A serial murderer, Holmes killed somewhere between 27 and 200 people during the Exposition and utilized his own system of cadaver disposal. Larson has brilliantly combined the stories of the two men and their “achievements” into an enthralling read.
DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: MURDER, MAGIC, AND MADNESS AT THE FAIR THAT CHANGED AMERICA, by Erik Larson (Vintage, 2004)