We seem to be big fans of Erik Larson here at my52books.com
Many friends have recommended this book and I finally got a chance to read it. It only took me 4 days to read it. That’s fast for me. There were a few reasons that I got through this book so quickly. First, Larson’s writing skillfully weaves together at least three or four extraordinary stories that would have been full meals in themselves. Secondly, one of those stories – that of serial killer HH Holmes was so dark that I didn’t want to dwell long in his world.
The main narrative focuses on architect Daniel Burnham and his quest to design, build, and manage the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. I found this detailed story fascinating. I had no idea of the massive impact on culture and economics this event had, and Larson draws out the implications well. The energy and innovation of industrial age America is truly astounding.
The other main narrative is that of HH Holmes and his “murder castle” this was fascinating yet obviously macabre. Holmes set up his “hotel” outside the fair grounds to lure in gullible, easily disappearable, out of town visitors.
I found that the parallel stories created an interesting irony. Both Burnham and Holmes (born Herman Mudgett) had varying degrees of a god complex, trying to create an artificial environment in which they ruled sovereign. In addition, almost as many people were killed in the construction of the fair grounds as were murdered by Holmes.
Mark read and reviewed this book a few years back. I think I enjoyed reading this more than he, especially the details of the fair, but overall I agree with his assessment.
Definitely on this years top 10 for me.