July 12, 2013

Review | Devil in the White City

Author: Erik Larson
Published: October 17, 2002
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 447
Genres: Mystery, Non-Fiction
Rating: ★★★★★
Reading Guide from LitLovers

Burnham had a vision. A vision of Chicago being the center of attention of the whole world. And he got his wish, in more ways than one.

In the late 19th century, Chicago was voted to become the home of the Columbian Exposition World's Fair. There was a lot of work to be done before the fair could open. It was one of the grandest times in US history, filled with wondrous inventions, architecture, and art, but while Chicago was experiencing one of it's greatest moments in history, it was also experiencing one of it's darkest.

Just a few blocks from the fair, Dr. H.H. Holmes built his castle. A castle of death and deception. Women went in and were never heard from or seen again. But no one suspected the charming, young doctor. And the longer he remained undetected, the more confident he grew, and the more fun he had.

This was a wonderfully well written book. It's obvious that a lot of time and research went into the making of it. It was a bit frustrating to read since it's such a long book. It seemed to take even longer since there is so much information that you can easily go into information overload, but having all that information is what made this book good. It brought it to life. Larkson had a very descriptive writing style that made everything easy to imagine. All the missing commas were rather annoying though.

People who live around or have been to Chicago will likely find this book more interesting than others. There is a lot of information other than the fair and murders that others might find uninteresting. It was really cool to hear about the history of some of the buildings that I grew up seeing and hearing about.
A lot of people were saying that the book slowed down after the opening until the opening of the fair. I didn't really feel this way. I thought the construction and people coming through were very interesting.

Another interesting part of this book was all the famous people that were mentioned, most of which went to the fair or were involved in it's building--Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Marshall Fields, Susan B. Anthony, Walt Disney, Frank Loyd Wright, and Burnham and Holmes of course among others.

My favorite part of the fair was when the Indians were riding the carousel. Indians on fake wooden horses, too funny.

Now that I've talked about the fair part of the book, lets talk about Holmes.

He was creepy. Everyone got taken in by his charms. I lost track of how many woman he married or promised to marry throughout the book. The author did a wonderful job trying to get into his head and describing things that aren't really known, like how exactly he murdered his victims. As creepy as he was, he was brilliant. He was able to talk himself out of anything. It was amazing what he was able to get away with. Much of the reason he got away with so much was because of how unorganized everything was back then. There wasn't much communication between companies, departments, and people, so many connections were never made until the very end.

The process of catching him didn't really go as I expected. Holmes' deception and confidence that he wouldn't get caught was unnerving. I thought more would have come up during the investigations, but they could only do so much back then. I was also kind of mad at the judge for not going into everything more and denying the witnesses the stand, even if he ended up being executed.

If you liked this book, you may want to check out these books too. I haven't ready any of them though, so I can't really give a recommendation.
Holmes' Own Story, The Holmes-Pitezel Case, and The Holmes Castle found in The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes
More title about and with Holmes can be found here.

And here is some research I did for my book club. If you would like to see more pictures, then check out the review I posted on Goodreads

Here are a TON of pictures on Gutenberg Project

Sky view of the fair

Jackson Park before the White City, 1891

Maps: Then and Now



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