Erik Larson’s bestseller The Devil in the White City- Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America is an incredible read. Larson brings to life the city of Chicago circa 1893, featuring the World’s Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair). He intertwines the lives of Daniel H. Burnham, the brilliant architect who designed the exposition and inspired much of the city’s famous architecture, and Dr. H. H. Holmes, an intelligent and manipulative man who preyed on women and became America’s first serial killer.
In this elaborate and dense historical novel Larson captures obsession, murder, ingenuity, and madness. He places the creative powers of two very different men, with completely different visions, next to each other in stark contrast. One is trying to produce the most exquisit architecture the world has seen, attempting to capture the eye of the globe and outdo Paris’s Eiffel Tower. The other, inspired by the hauntings of Jack the Ripper in the streets of an 1888 London, murders between 27 and 200 young women lured by his charm and intricate fabrications. The story draws you in and makes it hard to put the book down. There is so much information, so many images, so many details. It is brilliant.
Larson really does his research, honing in on the most minute details and really making the story come to life. These details were obtained from letters, journal entries, historical archives, and municipal records. Larson said he “Read – and mined – dozens of books about Burnham, Chicago, the exposition, and the late Victorian era. The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city’s willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor…The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck me as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions.”
It’s a great read. Two thumbs up.