The White City (as it became known) was a magical creation constructed upon Chicago's swampy Jackson Park by Daniel H. Burnham, the famed architect who coordinated the talents of Frederick Olmsted, Louis Sullivan, and others to build it. Dr. Henry H. Holmes combined the fair's appeal with his own fatal charms to lure scores of women to their deaths. Whereas the fair marked the birth of a new epoch in American history, Holmes marked the emergence of a new American archetype, the serial killer, who thrived on the very forces then transforming the country.
In deft prose, Larson conveys Burnham's herculean challenge to build the White City in less than 18 months. At the same time, he describes how, in a malign parody of the achievements of the fair's builders, Holmes built his own World's Fair Hotel - a torture palace complete with a gas chamber and crematorium. Throughout the book, tension mounts on two fronts: Will Burnham complete the White City before the millions of visitors arrive at its gates? Will anyone stop Holmes as he ensnares his victims?
© 2003 Erik Larson; (P) 2003 Books on Tape, Inc.
"A hugely engrossing chronicle of events public and private." (Chicago Tribune)
"Vivid history of the glittering Chicago World's Fair and its dark side." (New York Magazine)
"Both intimate and engrossing, Larson's elegant historical account unfolds with the painstaking calm of a Holmes murder."(Library Journal)
The subject was very interesting so I recommend on that alone. The writing form is sort of half way between a novel and a non-fiction history. This makes the really interesting history more palatable for those that don't care for non-fiction but may feel like there is a lack of rigor for non-fiction folks who like their facts to line up and trace back to reliable sources. Larson is no David McCoullough. I may have enjoyed more if he has just picked Team Novel or Team NonFiction and stuck with it.
For example, I did find it a little jarring to go from a novelistic description of the thoughts and feelings of specific people at specific moments (clearly speculation) to incongruously specific statements about people arriving "at 7:30 pm at Bla Bla station at 123 Main Street". Random facty bits thrown in to lend historical credibility broke the novelistic flow of people experiencing events in their time.
Narration is fine...neither stands out nor detracts from the book.
I listened to this on the ride home from a long weekend in Chicago. I spent a lot of time on architecture tours so many of the names and places were fresh in my mind. It was an interesting book that evoked what it must have been like in the city during the period. I do wonder if the printed book had some pictures of the fair and the people that I was missing, but I googled the places and people on my phone as I listened so I had all the photos I needed.
It was a wonderful intertwining of the one of the USA's glorious bright spots, the Columbia Worlds Fair Exhibition in Chicago, contrasted against one our darkest spots, an undetected serial killer running amuck.
I learned so much about both and the author's sources were genuine.
I first read this book on paper, when it appeared in 2004, and was enrapt. Re-experiencing it on Audible was a real treat; and this is the type of tale for which Scott Brick's mellow voice is perfectly suited. For fans if history, true crime it just the City of Chicago, this is a must-listen.
If I grew up in Chicago, I would probably have been mesmerized from the start. As it was, it took me a while to slide in to the flow...the early part to me stretched details that seemed excessive. However, once comfortable with the characters and narrative, I enjoyed the read (the "listen") very much. I had read Larsen's Hitler book which was a page turner. The subject matter here was less compelling, but I am a New Yorker by birth and don't know a lot about Chicago. Now I know more. Other history books I have read touched on the Columbian Exposition of 1893, so I got a great appreciation from this book about why it left it's mark on the American story, and how several elements of our culture, both words and phrases, as well as consumer products, the Ferris Wheel, and even alternating current, were first introduced at the fair. Frederick Law Olmstead final days sound remarkably like Alzheimer's disease -- even back then. Good narrator here.
Wonderful insight into a time of American ingenuity horror and intrigue laced with real life characters that even today grace our everyday lives. Mid way looking up real photos of the worlds fair and the people in this true story bring it even more to life.
This is an interesting approach, joining a tale of amazing cultural achievement with the horrors of a serial murderer contemporary to the events. I liked it, and enjoyed the approach but thought some editorial culling of the Exposition details might have improved it. Regardless, it was a fascinating tale.
This book was more about the worlds fair anything to do with Holmes. It read more like a list of dry facts rather than an interesting recounting of Holmes' activities.
But overall a very interesting story. Abridged version may be the better go chose from as it drug in more than one spot. Still worthy read.
The story was interesting, but it's a shame that the narrator was terrible. He made listening to one of the most interesting and gruesome events in history as boring as listening to him read the yellow pages. Wish I hadn't wasted a credit on this book.
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