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The Picky Girl RAVES about The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

7th March 2011

“Murder, Madness, and Magic at the Fair That Changed America”

 

So let me just be honest here: This book was amazing. Just flat-out amazing. There were things I didn’t love, but there was so much about it that was phenomenal that the other is certainly negligible in terms of the overall effect.

The Devil in the White City is about The World’s Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and everything leading up to it. The previous exposition had elicited excitement never before seen, and the Eiffel Tower was considered to be the epitome of man’s progress at that time. As the book puts it, the States had to “Out-Eiffel Eiffel.” Chicago wins the bid, and the men and women involved in the project begin a mad dash toward an all-but-impossible deadline. Larsen juxtaposes the architects’ plans and struggles with a serial killer operating at the time, Dr. H.H. Holmes (whose aliases are too numerous to mention here). It is a very odd mashup, and he explains in the notes that “the juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck [him] as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions.” Eh, it didn’t work for me. I certainly see the fascination, but to me, the exposition and its creators were far more interesting.

As Larsen follows Chicago’s bid and then the exposition’s creation and completion, he points out small details, keeping me hooked. The White City (named so because all the buildings were painted white) stood as a land of promise against the dark background of Chicago, with its filth and soot. The possibility held within the confines of the exposition were so overwhelming people would sob upon viewing the White City, and many were depressed after its closing, knowing they had seen the most amazing sight in their lifetime.

I don’t want to give away any of the magic moments of this book, but it sure has them. The inventions and innovation were unbelievable, and I had to Google them several times (even though I knew this was nonfiction) to find out more. It is truly incredible what and who this short period of time spawned.

If you’ve read this, what did you think? Does anyone know of any other nonfiction about the Exposition or any fictional accounts? I’d love to delve deeper here.

Read this one: immediately / asap / when you get a chance / if you’re bored

jenn aka the picky girl