The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Based on the title, I thought this would be a work of fiction, but it’s actually the true story of the development of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892 as well as the story of a serial killer operating in the Chicago area at the same time.

This book weaves together such disparate themes as the jousting among America’s leading architects to design the buildings for the Fair, the invention of the Ferris Wheel, the popularity of bicycling and the movement of young women to cities.  Larson indulges a bit in imagined conversations, particularly involving the serial killer, but overall does an amazing job in giving you the feel of the era.  I think of this book frequently, even though I finished reading it a couple months ago, because of all the factoids, like that Frank Lloyd Wright was a young employee of one of the Fair architects and took advantage of his boss’s distraction to do work on his own (he got fired for that in the end).

The Writer was not a huge fan of me reading the book because I couldn’t help sharing some of the more gruesome parts of the serial killer’s story with him.  I was surprised, given my years of watching Forensic Files and the like, that I had never heard of this man before.  Even though the book could only have been written if he were caught, the suspense of the investigation was intense.

One day, reading the book on the platform and waiting for the N Train, a fellow commuter commented on how much she liked the book, which was fitting since I had selected it on the platform for the R Train in Brooklyn.  The real full circle will come when someone sees me reading a Book Club book and decides to read it.

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6 responses to “The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

  1. I really liked this book too, and now that I live blocks from where all the action took place I feel like I need to re-read it.

  2. I loved this book and basically tell everyone I know to read it (still, and I read it in 2004). I think the juxtaposition of the growth of the World’s Fair against the horrors of the killings is terrifically planned out. And the little tidbits here and there about personalities and people are great. I have trouble because my favorite example of this is the Ferris wheel recognition moment, but I don’t want to spoil that moment for the person I’m telling to read the book!

  3. This story was so interesting it didn’t matter that the writing was just so-so. I wish this story were written by Truman Capote.

  4. Good book. Some people consider Holmes the first modern serial killer.

    Larson has also written ISAAC’S STORM: a man, a time, and the deadliest hurricane in history. It’s about the Galveston hurricane of 1900. It’s also worth reading.

  5. I bought this book at the Chicago airport, read a bit on the plane home, and then took it with me on the subway until i finished it. I loved it. Have you read any of his others?

  6. One of my favorite contemporary books.

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