Mark’s #47 – The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

Earlier this year, I read Erik Larson’s book In The Garden of Beasts. It was with that book that I experienced Larson’s ability to bring the details of history alive.  In The Devil in the White City, Larson does the same thing through his meticulous research and engaging prose.

This book feels like two books sort of smashed together as one.  Sure there are significant overlaps in time and geography, but for the most part I was alternately mildly amused and creeped out.  I was amused by the details, planning, politics, architecture, and accomplishments of the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago.  These descriptions of the lives, struggles, technological advancements, inventions, and lasting legacies born out of such a grand event was. To mention a few; the Ferris Wheel, Shredded Wheat, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the first widespread use of AC electrical current.

I was creeped out by the other portions of the book which follow the life of America’s first true serial killer H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett).  Here was a fairly intelligent, persuasive, handsome man who posed as a doctor and an entrepreneur.  His gentle and persuasive manner lured dozens, perhaps hundreds of mostly young single women.  As he took advantage of the booming business opportunities the Fair provided, Holmes ran both a hotel and a pharmacy in a large building near the Fair grounds.  Using his medical knowledge, along with various gasses and acids, Holmes took great pleasure in murdering people.

However, I did not take great pleasure in reading about his murders, or the seemingly endless details of the fair grounds and its buildings.

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