Retired former magazine editor who is working harder than ever as Mr. Dad to his 14-year-old daughter.
I'm sure people who loved this book will disagree with me but my expectations were far from met after wading through 15 hours of listening. I thought the connection between H.H. Holmes and the Chicago World's Fair was tedious at best. Larson might have done just as well to insert a photo of a scantily clad girl from the gay '90s every 25 pages or so. Of course, that would have proved problematic for Audible customers. If you like "architectural talk" and the behind-the-scences motivations of those involved in the trade, then this is a book for you. That's especially true if you also like a sprinkling of "serial killer story" with your description of building and landscape architecture. This book was well researched and well written, hence the three stars. It just wasn't for me. (The last 50 minutes summarized the first 14 hours and would have sufficed.)
A reader who varied his voice or showed some excitement. Some dialogue in the book.
A text book.
Monotone with no material to help him out.
I think the history about Chicago was great, which was the main virtue of the book.
I bought this book based on the glowing reviews but I have to say now almst 3 hours in I am really starting to wonder. It is a nice depiction of Chicago, and perhaps if I accept it as a history lesson and not the murder mystery I thought I was getting, it will be better.
It just seems like there is a great story here but the author does not bring the characters alive to me. I want more dialog not the endless narration of a very repetitive nature.
It always puzzles me how people can stand to listen to Scott Brick. I suspect they are people who have not read much. Scott Brick is unable to approximate ordinary human speech. He is CONstantly overEMphasizing ALMOST Every SYLlable. Get what I mean? It's like listening to most American actors do Shakespeare: most of the words are unfamiliar to them, and it's Shakespeare, right, so they think they're supposed to sound important. As a result, they sound like schoolboys proclaiming their first essay at school. Compare Denzel Washington with Kenneth Branagh.
In short, read like people talk. It's simply said, but, as Scott Brick proves, hard to do. I'm not saying I'd do any better. But at least I know good narration when I hear it. Examples: Christopher Hitchens; Grover Gardner: Master of the Senate; Jeremy Irons: Lolita; Juliet Stephenson: anything she reads; Bronson Pinchot: Matterhorn; John Castle: Vanity Fair; Nigel Graham: Lord Jim. Even Fredrick Davidson, alias David Case, even though his accent is hard to take sometimes, knows when to stress a syllable and when not to. He flows, wheres Scott Brick is constantly stubbing his toe against the English language. Also terrible, for the same reason: John Lee. Stop ruining books by giving them to these people. Just pay Juliet Stephenson whatever she wants to read everything.
Me, myself, and I.
You might not be able to tell from my previous reviews, given that I have heaped praise on a number of books here, but I am pretty picky. If I don't like something, if I am struggling to get through it, I just stop. What is left are books that I find generally engaging, fascinating, and overall an enjoyable experience.
Topping just about everything I've listened to in the past 12 months or so that I've been a member is this nearly perfect story. Erik Larson's narrative non-fiction is among the best available in any form. This story of the interweaving of herculean city building and evil incarnate is nearly unbelievable. Neither story feels like it could have taken place in the reality we inhabit. But as we all too often know, real life can be quite jarring, unbelievable, and amazing.
So it is with the most fervent recommendation that I suggest you read/listen to this book. Do it because the writing is impeccable. Do it because Erik Larson has set a new standard for whatever genre this actually falls into. And do it because you will finish the book with a newfound appreciation for Chicago, its roots, and the work of men to build things, discover things, and, ultimately, be greater than human in a time that often tried to stop them from doing so.
Oh, and Scott Brick is fantastic here. I want to say more about his reading, but the quality of the overall work itself drawfs anything else in its wake. Just know that Scott Brick does a great job, and his work here is another reason that I seek out books that he narrates, just as I do with a few other top-tier readers.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."
― Daniel H. Burnham
“His weakness was his belief that evil had boundaries.”
― Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City
A nice piece of narrative nonfiction that weaves together the story of the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair of 1893) with the story of the serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes.
White with black.
Achievement with horror.
Knowledge with ignorance.
Light with darkness.
Life with death.
This is kinda a brilliant construct: an alternating prose current of crazy and rational, evil and beautiful. I'm not sure if I could handle 400 pages of either subject without the other. The architecture piece was amazing, but didn't drive the narrative very hard. The characters, the architects, the dreamers, etc., were impressive. Daniel Hudson Turnham, Frederick Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan were all compelling because of their drive, their ego, their absolute resolution and certainty of success. They capture that Gilded Age ego and excess perfectly.
Conversely, the story of Dr. Holmes was at times almost too sick and twisted. Periodically, I would need a pause. I needed to leave the Holmes' dark Murder Castle to the White City for breath and sanity.
The limit of this book is the same limits that hit Capote's 'In Cold Blood' and Mailer's 'The Executioner's Song'. How do you exactly recreate a murder scene? How do you understand the victim? How do you understand the murderer? Especially when they either leave nothing behind or you can't trust what they've written. These narrative fictionalizations are probably necessary given the limits of information we have. But still, they are fictions. We can never really know what those women thought as they were trapped in the vault or what Dr. Holmes thought as he waited for someone to die in a trunk or vault. Larson admits this limit, but it ends up being a necessary facade, and one I can deal with.
Again, it isn't a perfect book. A bit too pop and a bit too loose with the Holmes facts. When dancing into that zone of fictionalized history he gets close to Capote and Mailer, but falls a bit short of the narrative masters of of murder.
I initially wanted to read this book because I have a fascination with HH Holmes and the year that the World's Fair descended upon Chicago. The book can get a bit bogged down in unnecessary details, while tending to give a lackluster focus on the actual man himself. I was hoping for more of a narrative on the extremely strange and rare set of circumstances that birthed America's first recorded serial killer, but instead, I got extremely detailed information of building specs for the hotel and an unusually large amount of data on the area at the time. It got a bit boring.
I was hoping for more of a narrative on the extremely strange and rare set of circumstances that birthed America's first recorded serial killer
Building America's first serial killer
I was massively disappointed in this book. The narrator, Scott Brick, is great as always. But, the writing and storytelling were sub-par. I was very interested in the topic and had looked forward to learning about something brand new.
As soon as the narrative began, I realized that the author was caught between telling a story and retelling history. He failed at both. Attempts to create suspense fell flat because he was recounting known historical facts. Attempts to create character-depth fell flat because he could only have them speak in the small snippets of dialogue culled from historical documents. Not one person seemed real to me and yet they were all historical figures! Because the author stuck by historical facts and evidence only, he hobbled his own freedom to create vibrant people which I could care about. Larson ends up describing people, describing their words and describing their actions. It didn't seem that the characters were actual people, speaking and acting.
I was fascinated by the fair but the author dragged me into minutiae that felt irrelevant to the story. And, I'm generally a great lover of minutiae.
The murderous Holmes was approached and described as though the author himself were a product of the end of the nineteenth century - constrained by prim social mores and avoiding saying anything crude, explicit or graphic about the murderer. It takes a true lack of writing talent to turn a vile killer into a tedious character.
I suspect that most other listeners will disagree with my point of view. But, two very exciting subjects were ground into a fine dust of tedium by Erik Larson.
Tried to find merit in this book but after several chapters, I gave up. If you are familiar with Chicago you might like this book.
Two unique stories with little relevance to each other. Either would have been good in their own right but together, not so much .