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The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America

December 2nd, 2012

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Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.To find out more about this book, go to http://www.DevilInTheWhiteCity.com.From the Hardcover edition.


Book Review

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out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12796 user reviews
History Books Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.To find out more about this book, go to http://www.DevilInTheWhiteCity.com.From the Hardcover edition.
http://www.bookpool.org/5937-the-devil-in-the-white-city-a-saga-of-magic-and-murder-at-the-fair-that-changed-america/

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  1. Anonymous
    December 3rd, 2012 at 09:14 | #1

    Rating

    Not a perfect book, but extremely well done.

    This well-researched book is so entrancing at times that you feel like you’ve gone back in time when you read it. The contrast of Chicago as it was before the fair…you can almost smell the dirty city. Once the exposition opens, you find yourself sensing what it must have been like for people of that era to experience some of the marvels of science (such as widespread use of electric lights) being displayed for the first time. You sense the wonder of people seeing the world’s first ferris wheel. All in all, a fun book to read (especially if you know little about the Columbian Exposition).

    The gore of the murders was kept to a thankful minimum; readers who are expected a chilling nonfiction murder mystery will be disappointed however.

    More pictures would have been nice. Reading descriptions of the buildings and sites is one thing; seeing what they really looked like is quite another.

  2. Anonymous
    December 4th, 2012 at 06:28 | #2

    Rating

    I downloaded this book from Audible.com and listened as I did some work in my studio. What strikes me most about this book is the detailed research that went into the parallel story about the Chicago World’s Fair and how it’s woven around the story of the murders. Pleasant surprises are abound as little by little you get a sense of history based on the historical figures present and they are revealed very thoughtfully.
    I would like to write more although I don’t want to spoil the tale. But I can say that a chilling picture is painted with this book, made even more so as it goes on in the background of the preperation and construction of the World’s Fair. It’s like looking into a crowded room and reading the mind of the one insane individual mingling with the rest of society–and put into great and interesting historical context.

  3. Jeffrey A. Thompson
    December 6th, 2012 at 15:44 | #3

    Rating

    The only real connection between the fair and the murders was the coincidence of time and place. Most of the murders of which Holmes was convicted took place away from Chicago. The plot lines really don’t mesh. The author writes well, but the two plot lines really don’t tie together and gives a disjointed narrative. The small stories about the fair was the best part of the book. Helen Keller meets the inventor of the braille typewriter and gives him a hug at the fair. How the fair organizers brought in different ethnic groups from all over the world was interesting. The story surrounding the Ferris Wheel was good. My main problem with the writing was that he hints at what is to come at the least at the end of every chapter and seemingly at the end of every paragraph. It was annoying. He spent more time on the build-up than the actual story at times. When he wrote about the Ferris wheel, he had an unnamed engineer dreaming it up, but not saying what it was, he had the committee turning the design down twice, and then we read it was a ferris wheel. If this was an isolated incident, it would have been fine, but he does this sort of thing all the time.

    Another problem, the author tries to relate the murders through the murderer eyes and I don’t think it works. You know it is conjecture and it is just distracting.

    In summary, I would give it 3 1/2 stars. The impact of the fair on Chicago, individual lives, architecture, and the United States was fascinating. The story of the murders was okay. The writing was crisp, but I didn’t like the style of foreshadowing every significant incident of the story.

  4. Scott Coffman
    December 6th, 2012 at 21:30 | #4

    Rating

    Larson has created the first must-read nonfiction title of the year, an assured and satisfying work which vividly portrays the one of the last grand gasps of the nineteenth century, the World’s Fair of 1893.
    Daniel Hudson Burnham, architect and overseer of the fair, builds the White City itself, while Henry H. Holmes is the titular devil, a charismatic young doctor with blood-curdling obsessions. The British of the period may have dealt with Jack the Ripper, but our ever-expanding country weaned its own monster, whose house of horrors stood in the shadows of the great architectural triumphs of the Fair.
    This compelling book moves with the relentlessness of the greatest novels of our time. The supporting cast includes such luminaries as Edison, Archduke Ferdinand, Buffalo Bill, and Susan B. Anthony; the ill-fated Titanic even makes an appearance in the books opening pages.
    Larson’s evocative prose fully engulfs the viewer in the period, and the dark and dreadful scenes with Henry H. Holmes are given welcome respite by the tales of Burnham’s amazing accomplishment. The enjoyment of this stunning work is only heightened by the knowledge that the story is true.

  5. A. H. Lynde
    December 9th, 2012 at 22:00 | #5

    Rating

    A good, fast read – especially for Gilded Age buffs like me, but certainly not limited to us. Larson weaves the fascinating story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition with the dastardly doings of a psychopathic fiend. Odd combination, but effective. We are transported in time to the excessive age of enormous wealth and grinding poverty – the “White City” of the Exposition and the dark, demonic “Castle” of Dr. H.H. Holmes. Surprisingly, it turns out the odyssey of Exposition head architect Daniel Burnham and the fascinating characters surrounding him are often more compelling than the blue-eyed, charming devil himself.

    There are on the one hand, the leading architects of the East, hesitant about committing their sturdy reputations to the city of meatpackers – Olmstead, McKim, Hunt, St. Gaudens. And later the mystery engineer whose feat rivals the Paris Exposition’s great Eiffel Tower. On the other hand, the `Chicago’ characters, sketched in sharp relief, even those appearing for brief moments at the Fair – sage architect Louis Sullivan and the budding Frank Lloyd Wright; immensely popular Mayor Harrison; white-clad, white-haired Buffalo Bill; the `dancer’ Little Egypt; pygmies and giants from Africa; President Cleveland, “immense in black…[he] touched the gold key” that set the massive fair in motion; Archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose taste ran to Chicago’s high-class brothels, not the exhibitions; the eccentric Spanish Infanta Eulalia, munching on German sausages; haughty Mrs. Potter Palmer, always diamond-drenched and offended; the insane assassin Prendergast; a (temporarily) deathly ill Mark Twain — even professor Woodrow Wilson makes an appearance, and the surprises continue.

    But the star of the Chicago Fair was Burnham and his heroic/dictatorial reign over the incredible creations of the White City (Larson’s description of the dimensions and details of the Fair are an absolute must-read). Holmes’ story is appropriately secondary to the Fair’s larger-than-life drama. But it is indispensable to the vast human drama of America/Chicago in 1893. The all-consuming drive of the national energy, technology, and most of all, money, accounted for both the soaring dreams of a future America embodied in the (short-lived) neo-classical enlightenment of the White City, and the evil soul of humanity laid bare by the dreams’ very creation. A haunting book, with some flaws (a little less speculation & more photos needed), but well worth the journey from the heights to the depths.

  6. M. J Leonard
    December 10th, 2012 at 05:41 | #6

    Rating

    This is a fabulous story and an absolutely riveting book. And it details events that I must confess I knew absolutely nothing about! Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element if the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush towards the 20th century, The architect was Daniel Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works, and the murderer was Henry Holmes, a young doctor who built his own hotel just west if the fairgrounds – a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and a 3000 degree crematorium.

    I loved the way Larson symbolically weaves these two stories together, and paints an invaluable and detailed picture of life at the end of the 19th century. There are many, many treasures in this book – the accounts of the initial design of the White City, the descriptions of dirt and “stink” of Chicago, and the detailing of the engineering marvels that took place at the time. I thought that the account of the invention and subsequent construction of the world’s first Ferris wheel was incredibly interesting.

    I think that central theme raised in this book is the question of how much is a city prepared to sacrifice and spend in civic pride, and what are the ultimate costs – both monetarily and to people – in achieving this? The strive to build the White City in time for the World’s Fair entailed many sacrifices, but it also showed how resilient cities can be, and how the sorts of civic decisions can effect urban living for years to come. I’ve never been to Chicago, but this book really stirred my interest in visiting this city.

    This is a fascinating book, and a must read!

    Michael

  7. Catherine B.
    December 15th, 2012 at 02:04 | #7

    Rating

    ….are just the things that might have gotten more people interested in history! I was born and raised in the Chicago area, and while I went on all the usual public school field trips, and certainly knew a little about the 1893 fair, I realize after coming across this book and seeing the recent PBS documentary “Chicago:City of the Century” that I was taught only the least interesting bits. I’m not trying to say this is gospel as history goes, but it may be close enough, and it has certainly awakened my interest in learning more-the way to get anyone interested in a subject is to sucker them in without making them aware of it. It may well be that the lurid story of the innkeeper from hell is what initially attracts, but the reader will find themselves fascinated by many stories before the last page is turned. The only thing that keeps me from adding the last star is wishing there were more illustrations of the Exposition itself, and a more easily readable map of the Chicago of that time for reference, but those are small considerations when you find a learning experience wrapped in an enthralling story. So…have any of you Hollywood types optioned this yet-or are you all asleep????

  8. Lee Freeman
    December 15th, 2012 at 11:49 | #8

    Rating

    Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City” is popular history at its best. I think this book is one of the best I’ve read this year. I thought Larson vividly captured the magic and wonder of the expositon’s “White City,” while at the same time describing the gruesome Holmes murders which took place mere blocks away from the exposition.

    Many have complained about Larson’s putting the stories of Holmes and Burnham together when in actual fact the two men never met, however, I found the author’s juxtaposition of the 1893 Columbian Exposition and its principal architect Daniel Burnham with serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes one of the book’s most intriguing facets. That something so horrible as the Holmes murders could take place within walking distance of the Columbian Exposition makes for a chilling reflection.

    For a non-specialist writing popular history, I thought Larson did thorough and detailed research, staying away from disreputable or questionable sources.

    Nevertheless, the book does suffer from a lack of more photographs. Though Larson gives vivid descriptions, still, one wished one could see photos of the structures described. The endpaper map of the expo site was very attractive, but a more detailed map of some of the areas (such as the Midway Plaisance) would have been welcome (as an example, I had great difficulty locating the Ferris Wheel, one of the key locations of the story, on the map; it was located near the top of the map very close to a fold in the endpapers, and nearly obscured by an arrow symbol). Many of the buildings mentioned in the text were not labeled.

    Also, the section of the book dealing with Holmes’arrest and trial seemed at times like an afterthought, as if the author had to hurry up and get to the end. Larson’s repeated use of the parenthetical phrase “in twenty-first century dollars” to explain nineteenth century monetary values got a bit wearisome as well. But all in all, I’d recommend the book highly. It got me interested in reading more about both Holmes and the 1893 Columbian Expo. To me, any book that does that is good writing.

  9. G. Ware Cornell Jr.
    December 15th, 2012 at 22:22 | #9

    Rating

    The 1890s saw an America ready to assume its role among the great military and industrial powers of the world. But most Americans had little experience with the world outside its borders. So if America would not go to the world, someone needed to bring the world to America.

    That person was Danial Burnham, Chicago architect and impresario extraordinaire. If America wouldn’t go to the world, he would bring the world to Chicago. He created a gleaming white city in a swamp near the lakefront where belly dancers and cowboys and sword-swallowers mingled with the folks from the hinterlands.

    His fair produced the first Ferris wheel and the first midway. It was electrified and proved to visitors from all over the practicality of alternating current as a source of illumination. He hired Frederick Law Olmsted to define the natural environment for the fairgrounds, and he weathered storms, fires and other disasters to make his fair a success.

    But whenever people gather, evil follows. In this case a madman named Henry H. Holmes, M.D. although that was neither his true name or his profession. His real occupation was serial killer and seller of anatomical skeletons to medical supply houses. his victims were young women, newly freed from farms to try life in the city.

    The two never met though the horrendous convergence of fate made Holmes’ evil almost industrial in its application. The author deft juxtaposition of fair and monster creates a book worth remembering.

  10. Gary P
    December 16th, 2012 at 01:09 | #10

    Rating

    The Devil in the White City seems like a funny name for a book. The White City is the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1892 to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. It was called White City because the major exhibition buildings were painted white. To contrast this Herman Mudgett who called himself H H Holmes after the famous fictional detective was the devil. He was a mass murderer with 9 documented killings and likely many more.
    This book brings to life both events that have mostly been forgotten now but were very important at the time. The book is both interesting and entertaining and kept me reading late into the night. The murders were described with detail but not any of the gore that might turn a reader off. The building and execution of the fair was also detailed but was informative without a dry and textbook sound. Even though this book reads like fiction it has been well researched and contains many direct quotes from letters and articles of the times.
    One of the best parts of this book was to come away with a real feel of how it was to live in a large city in the 1900′s. That alone was worth the price of the book.

  11. debra crosby
    December 16th, 2012 at 12:59 | #11

    Rating

    This is an easy and enticing read, full of gritty and gossipy details that are presented in a style that keeps the reader interested. I was intrigued by the astounding feat of effort that it took to prepare and present the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 and Larson does a good job of introducing us to the men who made it happen — all led by the talented and tireless architect Daniel Burnham. The cast of characters with whom Burnham worked reads like a Who’s Who of culture and design in the 19th Century.
    The reader also comes to learn a good deal about the city of Chicago at that time — how it so desperately wanted to refine its image from that of a grimy city known primarily as a hog-slaughterer into a cultural oasis and how it self-consciously but determidly sought world-class status, competing with New York and Paris to make the Big Time.

    The enormous success of the White City was due in large part to that gutsy determination and much hard work. And this book explains that very well. At the same time, it really piqued my interest to the extent that I have done some additional research into this World’s Fair.

    Larson parallels Burnham’s story with that of Herman Mudgett, alias Dr. H.H. Holmes, the first notorious serial killer in the United States. Holmes, a charming, fast-talking and handsome con artist, was able to swindle, steal and lie his way into and out of many schemes that a less clever person could have never even imagined, much less succeeded at. He was also a cold-blooded killer who had no qualms about killing women and children as well as men. He ran a hotel and apartments in Chicago during the Fair and attracted tenants and victims there with the Fair’s help. Holmes’ story is chilling but also fascinating. Again, he is someone I’d like to know more about.

    Having said all that, I realize that the things I enjoyed about the book were also weaknesses. There is so much going on that I’d have appreciated either more focus on one area or a great deal more focus on the whole picture. The book just left me wanting to know more, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I just wish the paralell stories would have had more of a connection. I wish there had been more illustrations. I wanted more detail about the legacy of the Fair on the City of Chicago.

    All in all, though, this was a fascinating story and one I could not put down. Be forewarned though, if you enjoy the story, this book will not be enough for you. You’ll want to read more. Fortunately, there is an excellent bibliography at the end, as well as extensive notes and a thorough index. (…)

  12. Brian D. Rubendall
    December 16th, 2012 at 13:36 | #12

    Rating

    Author Erik Larson had set the bar pretty high for himself after his previous book, “Issac’s Storm,” was such a huge critical and commericial success. Surely, he couldn’t top that, could he? Well, with “The Devil in the White City,” Larson has produced a book at least the equal of, if not better than, his previous effort. As a work of history, this book has it all. It resurrects for the modern reader the memory of an all-too-forgotten historical event (the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair) and combines it with the sensational and gruesome story of the firt American equivalent of Jack The Ripper.

    The book is structured as a dual biography of Daniel Hudson Burnham, the steadfast architecht who was the prime mover in making the World’s Fair an astounding succes; and of Dr. H.H. Holmes, the diabolical psychopath who operated his own killing chamber in a hotel he built not far from the fairgrounds. The two men never met, nor did they have any connection other than their contemporary existance, but weaving their stories together was a brilliant choice by Larson.

    Larson provies plenty of colorful backdrop for his main story, vividly describing harsh life in 19th Century Chicago; the development of the first skyscrapers, the Charles Dickens-like ambiance of the streets and the colorful personalities that made it go. He also describes the amazing and lasting impact the Fair had upon America, the The Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack and Shredded Wheat being but a few of the things that debuted there. And, of course, he graphically describes the Holmes murders and the investigation that finally brought him to justice. Larson is a diligent researcher in addition to being an excellent storyteller, and that’s what makes this book so special.

    Overall, an outstanding work of narrative history that is like to be high on most reviewer’s lists of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2003.

  13. Daisy
    December 16th, 2012 at 23:54 | #13

    Rating

    In brief, I think this book is fantastic. The author beautifully weaves together historical context, psychological insight, and compelling characters into a book that I couldn’t put down. As an admirer of both architecture and landscape architecture, I found the Olmstead and Burnham characters to be compelling. This book is perfect if you’d like to know a little about what Chicago was like, a bit about some of the main characters, the history of the fair and how it came about, and the Holmes murders, but wouldn’t want to read a full-length book about each.

    As someone who knows relatively little about that period in our history, I was delighted by all the surprises on each page, no matter how trivial. For instance, have you ever wondered how and why the Ferris wheel was invented? When and why the Pledge of Allegiance was written? The legacy of the 1890s Columbian Exposition is still with us today, in ways I hadn’t even imagined, and the author does a masterful job of bringing this to light in the context of a rich, engaging story.

  14. Bruce Kendall
    December 17th, 2012 at 01:51 | #14

    Rating

    Erik Larson does a bang-up job of conveying what life must have been like in the “Second City” as the 19th century drew to its fitful conclusion. Bristling at the constant reminder of New York City’s superiority in so many areas, Chicago’s city fathers rallied the troops and went all out in proving to New Yorkers, to the nation and to the world that Chicago was equal to the great challenge of mounting a World Exposition of truly monumental stature. Larson’s descriptions of the Herculean effort put forth by numerous architects, builders, politicians, etc. lead the reader to a true appreciation of these “can do,” spirited individuals.

    Yet beneath the teeming activity and a short distance away from the gleaming white Pleasure Palaces of the Fair, there stood a building of a different sort entirely, inhabited by one of the most vicious, truly evil creatures the young nation ever produced. Larson does an adequate, but not great job of telling the darker story surrounding H H Holmes, the mesmeric Svengali whose brilliant blue eyes and engaging charm seduced at least a score (one estimate was up to 200, which the author disputes) unfortunate women. Unlike Jack the Ripper, to whom he was later likened, he didn’t limit himself to female victims. Business partners who had outworn their usefulness and several children were amongst his prey, as well. He just had a penchant for murder.

    The sections on the construction of the Columbia Exposition are filled with fascinating anecdotes, ranging from the origins of the sobriquet “windy city (derisively coined by Charles Anderson Dana, Editor of The New York Sun)” to the dramatic entrance of Annie Oakley, barreling in on horseback and blazing away with her two six-shooters in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Western Show adjacent to the Fair Grounds. Larson also provides an interesting side story surrounding Patrick Predergast, a delusional political aspirant who turns assassin. He paints a compelling portrait of Fredrick Law Olmstead, American History’s premier landscape architect who took up the almost impossible task of designing and overseeing the Exposition’s parks and lagoons. The hero of the book, however, is Daniel Hudson Burnham, who was ultimately responsible for the lion’s share of the planning, construction and smooth running of the entire enterprise. He had a little over two years from the time Congress selected Chicago from a list of candidate cities that included Saint Louis and New York, to the day of the Expo’s official opening. That he got the job done within the alloted time is one of the great marvels in an age of marvels, especially given the myriad difficulties which he and his crew had to overcome.

    The Holmes narractive appears a bit lackluster in comparison to the story of the Fair’s construction. Larson acknowledges the difficulty he faced in recreating Holmes’ vicious crimes via imaginary vignettes. He states in an afterword that he went back and read Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD for the technique in which Capote so brilliantly engaged in his imaginative reconstruction of events. The only problem with this approach is that Capote had access to and the confidence of the two killers that are at the center of IN COLD BLOOD. Larson had only newspaper accounts from the period as well as a very unreliable journal that Holmes wrote after he was tried and sentenced to death (he was hanged several months after the trial). It would appear that Larson goes a bit too far out of his way to avoid the lurid and sensationalitic aspects of Holmes’ killing spree. One has only to visit some of the numerous web sites devoted to Holmes to see that Larson is particularly reticent to discuss Holmes’ sexual deviance. This is understandable, as Larson wants to be taken seriously as an historian, yet the facts are out there (most of them well documented) so it wouldn’t have hurt to have included a bit more of the darker details. The book could also have used more illustrations. The Chicago Tribune, at the time the story first broke in 1894, included a detailed floor plan of the “Chamber of Horrors” Holmes built on the corner of Sixty-Third and Wallace in the Englewood section of Chicago. That illustration would have given the reader a better sense of the bizarre layout of the structure. More pictures of the Exposition would have also been helpful. Here again, there are several sites on the web devoted to the Columbia Exposition that have many pages of great photographs.

    The books virtues far outweigh its shortcomings and I have no problem in recommending THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY to anyone interested in US History, Chicago Architecture, or just a well told story.

    BEK

  15. M. Dog
    December 17th, 2012 at 16:52 | #15

    Rating

    This book tells two stories that intertwine around the fabulous Chicago World’s fair of 1893. One story concerns itself with the monumental challenge the actual construction of the fair presented to the various architects, engineers, and landscape artists involved in the event. The other story tells the tale of murderer H.H. Holmes, who constructed a large hotel near the fair to accommodate the young, female tourists needing a room for the event. Holmes, in fact, had constructed a murder factory, complete with gas chambers, crematorium, and chemical decomposition facilities. There is a third story which makes brief appearances as well: the story of Patrick Prendergast, the sad lunatic that stalked and killed Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison just as the fair was wrapping up.

    This is an extremely ambitious book. Too ambitious. For me, the story of the architects and the trails in constructing the fair was fascinating and more than sufficient to carry the book. I had no idea the fair of 1893 was so towering an undertaking. They basically built a city within a city, complete with fire and police departments, municipal workers, and political offices – all built on earth that was, in essence, a quicksand-like foundation that had no real bedrock. The stresses and ultimate successes of this side of the story are captivating and incredible.

    The anecdotal stories about the fair make wonderful reading, my favorite being the story of George Ferris and his incredible Ferris Wheel, which was built to outshine the Eiffel Tower, introduced at the Paris fair a few years earlier (which it did in spades).

    The Book fell flat for me whenever the author undertook to tell the story of H.H. Holmes, the handsome, smooth con man who many call the first serial killer in American history. In the book, these episodes feel unfocused and hasty. Particularly rushed and episodic was the description of Holmes’ pursuit and eventual conviction by Pinkerton Detective, Frank Geyer. When reading these portions of the book, I felt myself whishing the author had dedicated a book just to this aspect of his tale. Mr. Larson has sensed the great story that lies in wait for the telling, but hasn’t given himself the space or time to tell it well.

    Read it for the magnificent, melancholy story of the engineers, artists and architects, whose ultimate triumph came at such sad, personal costs. For all the men involved in this project, it seems to have sapped the very strength right out of their lives.

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