Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

AuthorErik Larson
TitleThe Devil in the White City 
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2003
Also Read By the Same Author: Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, and Isaac’s Storm

I revisited one of my favorite books with this re-read of The Devil in the White City. The book tells a lively and engaging history of two concurrent events in late 19th-century Chicago: The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the chillingly efficient murders of numerous people in a purpose built hotel by a man calling himself H.H. Holmes.  It reads as a preview of the 20th Century, a time when visionaries changed the world through new technologies while at the same time unprecedented horrors inflicted bloodshed worldwide.

Having read some of Larson’s other books and not being as impressed, I was wondering if this book would hold up, but it turns out it is still Larson’s masterpiece.  I admit that the part about the fair is my favorite as I’d admire the work of Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted and others who contributed to the fair.  I also enjoy the anecdotes about about various incidents and peoples’ experiences at the fair.  Larson often uses literary license in the Holmes’ parts of the book to make a compelling crime drama.

So this remains among my favorite books of all time.

My review from 2003:

This is a great historical work about America’s dreams and America’s nightmares both of which came to a head during Colombian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Great visionaries like Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted present all that America could be at the fair. Nearby Henry Holmes sets up a gruesome factory of death to murder unknown numbers of young women. I have to say that I was more taken with the history of the fair than the salacious details of a mass murderer, but both stories do tie together well, and the narrative is well-written.

Recommended booksThe Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester,  The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Rating: *****

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