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.