David Monroe's Reviews > The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
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Aug 02, 08

bookshelves: book-to-re-read, non-fiction, mystery
Read in January, 2005

I read this book in 2005 as a library book after I saw it won the Edgar Award for best Best Fact Crime the year before. I own a copy, I re-read it last year.

My fascination with the World's Columbian Exhibition (1893 Chicago World's Fair) began when I went to work for the President Benjamin Harrison Home. Harrison, as President, commissioned the Fair. A formality really. The Fair began as a 400th Anniversary Celebration of Columbus landing in the Americas. It soon grew beyond that. Harrison attended it after leaving office and apparently enjoyed himself. At least until his cousin and popular Chicago Mayor, Carter Harrison, Sr. was assassinated two days before the fair's closing. There are many great sites online where you can look at photos and find information about the Fair. I'd encourage you to put 'World's Columbian Exposition' and or '1893 Chicago World's Fair' in your search engines and be amazed by The White City.

Larson's book tells the true story of two men: Daniel Burnham, the visionary architect who designed the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and inadvertently created the perfect conditions for one of America's first serial killers, Herman Webster Mudgett aka Dr. H. H. Holmes. The killer used the fair to lure young women to his hotel to meet their bloody ends down in his secret vaults.

Larson does a masterful job of weaving their stories together. In his hands, Burnham's fight to build his fair is just as gripping as Mudgett's murders, and somehow these two very different tales become one. Triumph and tragedy, a vanished time and a lost kingdom, a terrific read.
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