The Devil in the White City

When I first started reading this book, I kept thinking, Why did people recommend this book? It's really not that interesting. But the more I read the more interesting it became. The book intertwines the stories of two men who lived in Chicago at the time of the World Fair and explains the impacts that they each had on the fair. To be honest, I had no idea what a big deal the World Fair in Chicago was at the time. I had only previously heard about it in passing, but now I realize how significant it was that we pulled this fair off. I also had never heard of HH Holmes, but oh my, what a horrible person. And I'm glad I know about Daniel Burnham now and what an influential person and architect he was. My favorite part about the book is that it is all true, which makes it just that much more fascinating. I didn't become especially attached to the characters, but you do come away feeling like you experienced the World Fair yourself.

About: "Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larson's spell-binding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men - the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who use the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction."

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." -Daniel Burnham

"I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing." - Dr. H. H. Holmes

These other quotes are not exceptionally notable, but I found them interesting for one reason or another.

Page 79, "All were wealthy and at the peaks of their careers, but all also bore the scars of nineteenth-century life, their pasts full of wrecked rail cars, fevers, and the premature deaths of loved ones." -This short description, painted a very clear picture of life in this era.

Page 169, "In keeping with the therapeutic mores of the age, he decided to do his convalescing in Europe, where the scenery also would provide an opportunity for him to enrich his visual vocabulary." - I had never thought about 'visual vocabulary' before but I think it's a genius concept and one more reason why I want to continue to travel.

Page 247, "They saw even more ungodly things - the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima's. They sampled a new, oddly flavored gum called Juicy Fruit, and a caramel-coated popcorn call Cracker Jack. A new cereal, Shredded Wheat, seemed unlikely to succeed - 'shredded doormat,' some called it."

Page 249, "One male visitor, who had lost both his legs and made his way around the fair on false limbs and crutches, must have looked particularly knowledgeable, because another visitor peppered him incessantly with questions, until finally the amputee complained that the strain of answering so many questions was wearing him out. 'There's just one more thing I'd like to know...I'd like to know how you lost your legs.' The amputee said he would answer only on strict condition that this was indeed the last question. He would allow no others. Was that clear? His persecutor agreed. The amputee, fully aware that his answer would raise an immediate corollary question, said, 'They were bit off.' 'Bit off. How-' But a deal was a deal. Chuckling, the amputee hobbled away." -I love that amputee's sense of humor.

Page387, “Strange things began to happen that made Holme’s claim about being the devil seem almost plausible. Detective Geyer became seriously ill. The warden of Moyamensing prison committed suicide. The jury foreman was electrocuted in a freak accident. The priest who delivered Holmes’ last rites was found dead on the grounds of his church of mysterious causes. The father of Emeline Cigrand was grotesquely burned in a boiler explosion. And a fire destroyed the office of District Attorney George Graham, leaving only a photograph of Holmes unscathed.”

I definitely recommend the book, especially if you'd like to learn a little more about Chicago's World Fair.

1 Response to The Devil in the White City

March 7, 2012 at 10:25 PM

I started this book a couple years ago and couldn't get into it! You've inspired me to try it again =)

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