The Devil In The White City by Eric Larson
When Daniel Hudson Burns was asked to oversee the architecture and development of the World’s Fair, Burns seen this as a way to really make a name for himself. Painstakingly he hired and fired… working hard to get it right to create what would put Chicago on the map… an amazing attraction to celebrate the anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America that would draw people to it from all over the world.
Not too far from the fairs planned location was H.H. Holmes. Holmes had a dark side that was easily masked by his piercing blue eyes, pleasant demeanor, fine style of dress, and Holmes just had an uncanny way with people. Holmes was a swindler, and a murderer, and actually created a home (later known as the Murder Castle) that was designed to trap people, and hide the bodies – or in some cases, Holmes would plant the bodies of those he had killed so they would be found and be seen as having had an “accident.” As many of these people had trusted Holmes, he had taken out insurance policies on them as “family members” and would collect once the bodies were recovered.
While Burns worked at creating the famous Fair, Holmes made plan of how he would lure people from the fair into his many traps….
Told in alternating chapters between the making and creating of the World’s Fair, and the coinciding happenings that surrounded the man named Holmes, this non fiction read will capture you and not let you go. This well written books reads like a smoothly flowing fiction book, but the fact is – it is not fiction.
I poured over the pages of this book as you could almost feel the tension churning…. first the start of the fair, then over to Holmes as he makes his way into peoples hearts (I am reminded of Jeffrey Daumer), then back to what is happening with the fair, the architecture, the details – all make for fascinating reading. Did you know the first Ferris wheel was built at this fair?
Truth really is stranger than fiction. When I was first introduced to this book last month during book club I was amazed I had never heard of this true story of murder and mayhem surrounding the Chicago World Fair. In fact, honestly… I knew little of the fair. Upon reading this book and taking a survey of our book club – no one in our group had heard of the missing people surrounding the fair or the man called Holmes.
But before you set your creep factor on high, know that there is more to this book than the spooky Mr. Holmes with the killer looks… and apparently, killer instincts.
The historical facts in this book are … well, amazing. If you have never read up on the Chicago World fair there is so much more than meets the eye. This fair was responsible for new architectural creations never heard of prior. The first Cracker Jacks were at the fair, also new was Aunt Jemima pancakes, Juicy Fruit Gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Shredded Wheat… also The Pledge Of Allegiance is known to have its first recital here at the fair, having been written earlier this same year.
I really could go on and on about what this book offers. Erik Larson has written this so well that it never feels heavy with the Holmes dealings weaving in and out of the progress of the fair. The chapters flow smoothly between the two story lines and it never felt choppy. Once into the book, I had a hard time putting it down. I look forward to giving Eric Larson’s book In The Garden Of Beasts.
The book will capture those who enjoy a good murder mystery, it will also hold those who like history. In the end, I really found this book to be one I enjoyed immensely, highly recommend and will remain on the keeper shelf.
*Note that this book is due to come out as a movie in 2012/2013 starring Leo DiCaprio as Holmes. While the book really is about the fair and Holmes is a secondary story… I believe the movie will reverse this and make Holmes the prime story line.
The 2011 WHERE Are you Reading map has been updated to include The Devil In The White City
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Bookies rated this read a solid 4 (on a scale of 1 -5)