American History

Justin’s #49 – The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Erik Larson, 447 pages

September 27, 2015 // 0 Comments

Well I’ve been on an Erik Larson kick lately (check out my reviews on “In the Garden of Beasts” and “Dead Wake“, both by Larson). This book traces the two stories of two different men who seemingly have nothing in common: Daniel Burnham, an architect in charge of the designer of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and H.H. Holmes, a serial murderer. Part of the story traces how Burnham, an already successful architect, brought the World’s Fair to Chicago and then designed it to be more successful than the Exposition in Paris. Some of these details were, as I have noticed in Larson books, tedious. Particularly the beginning chapters of organizing the fair and getting committees together to plan for the different events and structures are a little bit of a bore. But it quickly becomes more interesting as you get a glimpse of all the different exhibits and entertainers who piled into the fair at Jackson Park in Chicago to be part of, by the end, the biggest event ever known to man. A good portion of the book deals with the tension between Burnham and landscape architect Frederick Olmsted. Olmstead and Burnham quarrel for superiority almost through the […]

JRF’s #16 – Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

September 15, 2015 // 1 Comment

We seem to be big fans of Erik Larson here at 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 […]

Justin’s #46 – In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin , Erik Larson, 448 pages

September 14, 2015 // 0 Comments

Doesn’t the saying go, “hindsight is 20/20”? It is easy for us, knowing how a little of the story goes, to be overtly critical of Germans living in the 1930’s. We ask questions like “why didn’t they do anything?” Or why didn’t someone do something? Erik Larson gives us a really interesting look into the early Nazi German mindset as Adolf Hitler rose to power. “Beasts” is essentially about two intertwining characters: William Dodd and his daughter, Martha Dodd. William was a history professor before being tapped for ambassador to Germany in early 1933. Taking his family with him, he set sail for Germany and set up camp in Berlin. The ensuing story focuses on Dodd’s work as ambassador and Martha’s love life in Nazi Germany before the start of the world war. It’s interesting to note that even in 1933, Roosevelt and others thought that Hitler’s regime would ultimately cave to economic pressures. The seeming urgency of what was to come was no where to be found. Even the roots of his anti-Semitic crusade were apparent in this year, as Martha recounts a day trip to Nuremberg to see a German woman harassed through the streets by Nazi “Schutzstaffel” […]

Mark’s #27 – The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

August 29, 2015 // 0 Comments

It is mind-boggling to fathom a world without flight, yet the opposite was true just over 100 years ago.   In typical compelling fashion, author and historian David McCullough transports his readers to the past as few can. On December 17, 1903 the world had fundamentally changed… Wilbur and Orville Wright inaugurated the age of flight.  For most of us, this is about all we knew about those two brothers and their achievements.  Mcullough brings their lives, families, community, struggles, character, and determination to life. I was fascinated by all that took place in the brother’s lives before, during, and after their invention became world renowned.  These are men worthy of American honor and imitation.  Though their mother died young, the brothers along with their sister Katherine, were raised to value hard work, reading, intellectual pursuits, honesty, and humility by their itinerant preacher father.  These qualities he instilled in his boys and daughter would all prove invaluable in their pursuit to be the first to the air.  They labored many years while others mocked them and constantly questioned their sanity and integrity.  When they were finally successful, though they tried repeatedly to sell their product to the U.S. government. However, […]

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