The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: B

From the front flap:
In The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson tells the spellbinding true story of two men, an architect and a serial killer, whose fates were linked by the greatest fair in American history: the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, nicknamed “The White City.”

What The Devil in the White City excels at is evocation of time and place. One really gets a sense of what life in late 19th century Chicago was like, and what kind of people populated it. Impressive self-made men, desperate laborers, women coming to the big city on their own for a life of independence, criminals like Holmes (the aforementioned serial killer) who exploit the unsuspicious natures of those around them…

Where it dragged for me was in the planning stages of the Fair, with innumerable names being bandied about, so many men flitting in and out of the scene that I continually had to go back and try to refresh myself who this guy was and why was he talking to this other guy, etc. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of the serial killer bits were interesting, and the Fair was, too, once it actually got up and running.

All in all, I liked it and will be checking out Thunderstruck in the near future.

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  1. How interesting! I had exactly the opposite reaction! I loved the parts about the Fair, but found much of Larson’s discussion of Holmes speculative and unsupported by any reliable evidence.

    But, hey! How boring would the world be if we all agreed on everything?

  2. I have to admit I did notice the same thing at times, and Larson acknowledges in the notes that he did a little bit of creative reconstruction in certain spots. 🙂

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