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)
I can't tell if it is the writing or the narration that is the source of my trouble with this book. But the combination of the two leads to an campily dramatized and overwrought narrative. It seems to give grand and dark weight to even trivial details. You expect every line could be accompanied by ominous organ music. The obvious concealing of well known facts until their dramatic reveal grows tiresome and feels unnecessarily manipulative. The book is obviously well researched, I just wish the gravity of the noir could've been more contrasted with levity of the fair.
It was an ok book, but I was expecting a crime novel and not a book about Chicago architecture. I feel deceived because the selling point for me was the story about HH Homes and the Murder Castle. It's in there but not near as much as one would expect. Seems like they didn't have much solid information about him and his crimes (compared to other criminals in history) and they padded the book to fill it out. I will say the padding was relatively interesting but I kept on thinking... Where's the beef?
Erik Larson succeeds once again in making history and eras gone by into stories both fascinating and enlightening. I read 'The Devil in the White City' three or four times before listening to the Audible version, and can honestly say it is a book that I enjoyed greatly.
The narration/performance of Scott Brick is well done and professional. Something about his style of reading bothered me, in his dramatized delivery, and emphasizing each detail with nary a break in the tone. The urgency given to each word ended up being tiring to listen to for long stretches of time, but this may not be the effect for others. He does an excellent job with superb material, but it wore me out listening frankly.
Still I highly recommend this Audible book, and also highly suggest you read the hard copy too. You can't go wrong with an Erik Larson creation.
Incredibly well researched, skillfully written, with enough historical detail and interesting facts to keep the brain engaged and the right amount of drama to feed the voyeur. I also loved Isaac's Storm by same author about the Galveston hurricane.
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