The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, is a book I had heard a lot of chatter about at work. My colleagues highly recommended it, customers requested it so often I knew exactly where to find it in the store, and I even had a mom engrossed in it while her child played in the kid’s section. It was obvious I would have to read it, but I decided to try something a little different–I bought it as an audiobook, and listened to it on a long road trip. I must say, it was quite a nice way to be told a story.
And what a story it is! The Devil in the White City is a historical (aka true!) story about two men who were greatly affected by the World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893. They were Daniel Hudson Burnham, the architect and director of works of the Fair, and Henry H. Holmes, a serial killer who drew his victims from the people poring into the city for the fair. Larson seamlessly weaves together these two stories, creating a historical book that reads like a thriller.
I’m usually not one for historical nonfiction books, but The Devil in the White City completely sucked me in. Not only was it exciting and suspenseful, but I learned so much about an event in my country’s history that has had a lasting affect, even though I (and I’m sure many others) knew nothing about it. This event was the genesis of classic fair elements like the Ferris wheel and the Midway; Milton Hershey bought chocolate making equipment from a European exhibitor at the Fair so he could add chocolate products to his caramel company; and the artistic director of the Fair, Francis David Millet, invented spray paint to more quickly paint the buildings at the Fair. And those are just a few notable things the Chicago World’s Fair introduced to American life!
I highly recommend this book, and promise it will be a book like you’ve never read before!
Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. New York: Vintage, 2003.
Book design by Leonard W. Henderson. Image from BN.com.