6.13.2021

finished reading

This book has my head spinning.  In one narrative thread, there is the story of the White City which is gripping and compelling as a study of personality, persistence, art, and architecture.  Then the other narrative thread tells the twisted and grotesquely fascinating story of madman H.H. Holmes.  I think I would have preferred two separate books--the story of the fair and the story of the killer.  There is atmospheric detail in the research and plenty of first-person accounts that kept me turning pages.

From the publisher:
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.

Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.



2 comments:

  1. SHUDDER! This book scared the living shit out of me. I recall a moment rather early on, a young woman's small footprint on the wall as she fought to get out. Really, I don't care if I never read this again. Too scary! (Which I guess means it was effective.)

    But you're right: Holmes overwhelmed Burnham for me, and that's not fair. (Pardon the pun.)

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  2. I have this on my bookshelf but haven't read it yet. I've seen a lot of different reactions to it, too!

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