Monday, May 2, 2011
Book Review: The Devil in the White City
Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America follows the events of the great Chicago’s world’s fair of 1893. Its official name, the World’s Columbian Exposition, known throughout the world as the White City, brought extraordinary splendor to the world May 1 through October 30, 1893.
The book begins at the fair’s conception and concludes with the ending ceremony, with a few vignettes at the end. First conceived as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the new world, the fair takes on a life of its own, showing the world architecture and design never before seen or even imagined.
Today, planning an event of this magnitude would be daunting. In the late 1800's, it was unimaginable. Architect Daniel Burnham, encountered so many obstacles on so many levels the wonder is that it happened at all. This book delves into the personalities of those who persevered to create an almost mythological experience.
But along with the splendor comes the dark deeds of a psychopath, Herman Webster Mudgett, alias H. H. Holmes. Taking advantage of the fair’s attraction, Holmes draws people into his web of destruction and death.
Larson’s account of the planning, building, performance and conclusion of the fair leaves the reader in awe that such a thing could be possible. The chilling deeds of Holmes introduces a macabre reality that only the most persistent detective can unravel.
The Devil in the White City is a well researched work, backed up by documented resource notations. The non-fiction historical is a fascinating, while chilling, page turner.