An Excellent Reading Experience – The Devil in the White City by Eric LarsonPosted: January 4, 2010
About “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America” by Eric Larson
Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larson’s spellbinding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men–the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World’s Fair, striving to secure America’s place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
A view of the Ferris Wheel, the star attraction of the 1893 World’s Fair. George W. Ferris invented the wheel specifically for the fair as an answer to France’s Eiffel Tower. The wheel was a wondrous feat of engineering: supported by two 140-foot steel towers and connected by a 45-foot axle, it was the largest single piece of forged steel ever made at the time. With a diameter of 250 feet and thirty-six cars holding sixty riders each, the Ferris wheel carried 1,450,000 paying customers over the course of the fair. (Photographer: Waterman / Credit: Chicago Historical Society, used by permission.)
A view of the Court of Honor and the Statue of the Republic (also known as “Big Mary”). Created by sculptor David Chester French, the statue was a 65-foot figure atop a 40-foot base and depicted a woman covered in gold leaf holding an eagle, a globe, and a lance (symbolizing the republic of the United States). A replica of the original statue can be found today at the former site of the Administration Building, in Chicago’s Jackson Park. (Photographer: William Henry Jackson / Credit: Chicago Historical Society, used by permission.)
From Publishers Weekly….
Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city’s finest moment, the World’s Fair of 1893. Larson’s breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac’s Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of the vast fair and Holmes’s relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes’s co-star, architect and fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile Durkheim’s Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of “articulated” corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed.