Pros - The writing is crisp and provides a fascinating glimpse into both the events covered and the era they were occurring in. One gets a sense of hoPros - The writing is crisp and provides a fascinating glimpse into both the events covered and the era they were occurring in. One gets a sense of how America was in the midst of immense change in the fin de siècle. The use of late century Chicago, the Columbian Exposition and the murderous life of Herman Webster Mudgett are well chosen to reflect these changes, both good and ill.
Cons - There are only two issues with the book. The first is stylistic. The book includes events that no one could actually know about - like the inner thoughts of some of Mudgett's victims. While it is clear, particularly if you read the footnotes - how the author constructed these, they could give one pause, being a device one would normally see in a work of fiction. This is a minor quibble. The major one if that the narrative of Mudgett - one of America's first serial killers - while disturbing, is much less interesting than the story of the Exposition. Further, the point being made - that the new freedoms being tested and the anonymity of cities like Chicago have a dark side - seems a bit trite, particularly since the same point is made within the Exposition narrative. Simply put, the Mudgett story feels unnecessary, a device designed to hold the attention of those readers who might otherwise find the history of the Exposition, urban growth, and societal change boring.
That said, the book is a very rewarding, being both a pleasure to read and informative. ...more
I'm giving this five stars, not be cause I agree with everything the author has to say. Some of his analysis is hard to accept, his assertions not basI'm giving this five stars, not be cause I agree with everything the author has to say. Some of his analysis is hard to accept, his assertions not based on anything but obvious bias, some of his prescriptions for correcting what he sees as catastrophic failures unrealistic.
However, Scheuer does succeed in making one think, to question commonly held beliefs (e.g., that we need to support Israel no matter what) and to try and get a more realistic view of what our Islamic enemies are after (at least in the short-term; Scheuer does not seem to have a very long-term idea of the threat Islam poses to the West and does not want to place the current conflict in the context of the 1300-year-old war between Islam and the rest of the world). He also rightly points out that America's main problem is a leadership class so enamored with it's own goodness and moral and intellectual greatness that it fails time and again to actually act in America's best interest (and, for those of a partisan bent, Scheuer plays no favorites; Republicans and Democrats are equally reviled).
I recommend reading it, but pausing often to ponder what Scheuer has to say. Even if you wind up disagreeing with everything in the book, at least it will serve what I think his primary purpose is - to get Americans thinking about our role in the world and how our leaders have come very close to destroying our country....more