Thursday, May 11, 2006

#39 - Devil In The White City

Erik Larson's magnificent Devil in the White City represents nonfiction at its best. Larson's story of how Chicago's infamous World Fair came to life is told alongside the chilling tale of serial killer H.H. Holmes (aka Herman Webster Mudgett). At first glance, the two stories have little in common but for geography (Holmes's sick imagination profited from the arrival of many young woman to the fair) and opportunity. Yet, Larson's deft hand weaves the two together like a sort of magical tapestry, intertwining all kinds of other relevant material into a book that's inevitably impossible to put down.

The Gilded Age, so eloquently captured here, remains the backdrop for the story. As the Fair's leader, Daniel Burnham, struggles against all odds (financial, egotistical, architectural, geographical, seasonal, meteorological and personal) to complete the project, the world sits back and expects failure. Of course, as history records, the Fair succeeds and its lasting impression upon American culture, architecture and general culture felt for decades. And then, as equally magnificent, celebratory of the great heights to which human nature can sore, the feats of the murderer Holmes are recorded to show how dizzyingly, terrifyingly evil human nature can crawl. A perfect read for a rainy night with a cold, all snuggled up in my duvet with the cat at my feet. Just perfect.

And just think, only six months to wait until Larson's Thunderstruck hits the book shelves. And dammit, can he think of great titles or what?

1 comment:

Zesty said...

I absolutely loved Devil in the White City. You should watch Ken Burns CHICAGO. A la his Civil War and New York series there is an entire two hours devoted just to the fair. Magnificent indeed.