Thursday, June 26, 2008

Review: Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

I originally read Devil in the White City last September. I tend to be addicted to those lurid Victorian murder stories, and Erik Larson’s first book is no exception. Set during the World’s Fair of 1893, in Chicago, this book centers around two people, one who builds and the other who destroys. On one hand is Daniel Burnham, architect and designed of the buildings at the World’s Fair; on the other Dr. H.H. Holmes, a Chicago resident who murdered somewhere over 25, but under 200, women in his World’s Fair Hotel.

The Fair itself was a marvelous event: Americans (and foreigners) were introduced to such marvels as Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix, and Shredded Wheat, and were treated to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Larson brings to life in almost fiction-fashion late 19th century Chicago, an era before automobiles ruled the streets, slaughterhouses predominated, and vice and violence were the norm. The relatively young city of Chicago was caught in an identity crisis in which it struggled between the past and the future. Burnham and Holmes are equally fascinating characters, although Larson had to use his imagination in some parts to recreate Holmes’s story. By displaying these two very opposite men, Larson gives us a true, complete picture of the era, written as though its fiction. Also recommended: Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City.

Also reviewed by: Caribou's Mom, Reading Reflections, So Many Books, So Little Time, Books I Done Read


Amanda said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as well! I thought Larson did a great job describing the era. Thanks for the review! I'm going to have to read Sin in the Second City now :)

Beastmomma said...

I enjoyed this book very much as well; I loved how two totally different stories were woven together to give a full picture of Chicago.

Laura said...

I agree that it is written like fiction--I normally don't enjoy non-fiction very much, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I'll have to look into Sin in the Second City!

trish said...

I liked this book as well, though I thought it dragged in the parts where it talked about the workings of getting the fair up and running, those parts got a little dry, in my opinion. Other than that, I loved it.


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