The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Vintage, 2004, 447 pages
The Devil in the White City focuses on the White City of the title, the World’s Fair in Chicago, 1893. Larson documents the many challenges architects, builders, and politicians faced during the construction of the World’s Fair as Chicago celebrated the 200th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas. The draw of the book for many, and the supposed subject given the title, is H. H. Holmes, the man considered to be the first American serial killer. Known by many other names in pursuit of insurance fraud, Holmes built a hotel outside the World’s Fair with the intent of using it as a castle of murder. While Holmes murdered his many wives, associates, and hotel guests, the Fair went on. There, the invention and introduction of many things still in existence today, such as Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jack, and the Ferris Wheel, delighted and amazed visitors of the World’s Fair.
Larson, a famed nonfiction author, quite obviously put painstaking research into this work. With regular use of direct quotes from the characters who inhabited these real events, Larson brings the people of the past to life. The quotes, Larson notes, come from primary source material, allowing readers to be sure the words quoted within are reflective of their speakers and the situations. Providing primary source quotes, Larson lends a fictional voice to the book, which many readers have appreciated in his storytelling.
While the quotes add to the fictional feeling of the book, I tended to disagree with this assessment in general. Overall, the book didn’t read terribly like fiction to me. Sections came close, though in his notes, Larson admits that those sections are largely embellished by educated speculation. The fictional tone falls short as Larson doesn’t adhere to a linear story and is unable to successfully ie Holmes’ story together with the building of the World’s Fair. Another sidestep into the assassination of an elected official does little to glue the pieces together. The slow pace of Larson’s prose does more to disconnect these stories.
If you’re going into The Devil in the White City expecting the subject of the title, the Devil, to be the focus, you’ll be disappointed. The majority of text focuses on the White City and the men who brought it to life. This is, in part, due to how little information is available on Holmes and his Murder Castle. The wealth of information on the White City, however, provides enough intrigue to hold your attention otherwise and leads the reader through a vivid painting of life in the early 1890s of Chicago.
❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤