J.I.'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
Mar 10, 2009

bookshelves: read-2009

Simply put: This is the tale of two men. One is an architect, one is a serial killer. What they have in common is that they were both in the same place (Chicago) at the same time (late 1800s). They were also both driven men. What this book does is give the reader a portrait of both men, told 1 chapter at a time for each, in a way that is true to history but is concerned as much with narrative as it is with fact. The connection, for those curious, is nebulous: these two men were products of a new society and are shining examples of the height and depth to be furthered in a Blossoming America. Some will grip about this, but it is a fitting comparison that shows how a country went from the curiosity it was in the 1800s to the force (of both good and bad) it was to grow into.

What separates this book from most others is the sense of wonder it imparts upon the reader. a twenty story building is old hat. A 200 foot Ferris wheel is impressive, but not even close to the most impressive thing I've seen even this year. Electricity is not a novelty. Worse serial killers have existed, in our lifetimes even, than the one portrayed here. However, Larson is able to portray the uniqueness of these things, the scope of them and the marvel and awe that they inspired at this time. I have never read anything in the nonfiction realm that captures a sense of wonder and fright as well as this book does.

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