Annalisa'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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's review
Apr 12, 09

bookshelves: book-club, memoir-biography, non-fiction
Recommended to Annalisa by: Dani
Recommended for: history buffs
Read in April, 2009

I read a few reviews about this book criticizing the book for being more about the white city and less about the devil and I almost didn't finish the book thinking the book wouldn't be that much about Holmes. I'm so glad I didn't listen.

I've always had a some vague fascination with the World Fair and was pleasantly delighted to find out how much of our world gets its roots from the Chicago World Fair: our neoclassic bank building styles, city planning, labor union reformations, and most importantly modern theme parks (thank you!). I think it would have been fascinating to attend the world fair and see electricity in all its glory for the first time, to experience the fireworks shows over the lake, and see all the new technology of our greatest age of scientific innovation. Some new products showcased at the world fair: Cracker Jack popcorn, shredded wheat, hot air balloons, Kodak cameras, the electric chair, zippers, and telephones. Some people in attendance: Helen Keller, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, Thomas Edison, Buffalo Bill, Woodrow Wilson, and Susan B. Anthony. What a time. It would certainly make you feel patriot knowing the US had upstaged Paris, and without New York or any of the eastern cities. And Larson did a good job of making the construction of the fair, the magic of its duration, and its lasting impact exciting.

Sure Howard Holmes, or Herman Mudgett, may not have had anything to do with the world fair, but he was in Chicago at the time preying on its visitors so he adds to the ambiance of the time. A story about the world fair would not be complete without him and it is his rightful place to be secondary in the story, or at least on an even plane. That's not to say I didn't want more of the Holmes chapters but there is so little known about him. As America's first serial killer, how come he is forgotten when Jack the Ripper terrorizing England at the same time is infamous? That's because Holmes was such a master at deception that nobody really knows exactly whom he killed and how. Up until the end, he was still playing with authorities, and the public, laughing that nobody knew the truth. Serial killers want to be famous these days but Holmes had nobody to upstage (other than his English counterpart who was never found) and was satisfied with knowing he had pulled one over on everyone. It would be nice if more were known about Holmes and his Castle of Terror. Without a lot of concrete information but much speculation, I thought Larson did a good job of giving us an accurate picture of Holmes (like I would know) and presenting the gory details without being disgusting but still showing us how disturbing the events were. And I enjoyed how his story was weaved between the pressure to get the fair done on time. Both stories were fascinating, well researched, intriguingly written and I'm glad I finished the read.
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Reading Progress

04/10/2009 page 200
44.74% "Interesting."

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Lucy (new) - rated it 1 star

Lucy We were just talking about this book at my bookclub the other night, and I feel so in the minority about my feelings. Obviously, I had an emotional reaction against what I was expecting to what the book actually was, and my review shows that I felt duped, but I do admit that the writing was good and the description of the fair really well researched and interesting. I still think including Holmes was a stretch, but I doubt I'd know anything about that World Fair if a book about the White City didn't include the word "Devil" in the title.

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