Saturday, November 26, 2005

Devil in the White City (by Erik Larson)

This is a non-fiction book about "Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America," the Chicago World's Fair. I'm going to Chicago next weekend, so was interested to read some of the city's history, and it is a fascinating one. The story of the architecht and mastermind of the World's Fair is juxtaposed with the story of H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who operated in Chicago at the time.

The research is meticulous and the story is fascinating. The book is a bestseller and was nominated for the National Book Award. But my sense is that the book could have been better written. It's choppy in places, and the link between the murderer and the Fair isn't always as strong as it should be. After a while it feels like two separate stories that just happen to be told in alternating chapters. Plus, there's no indication that the fair had much of an impact on Holmes. Most of his murders (the ones described in some detail, anyway) are the ones that took place before the fair happened.

I was expecting a non-fiction book along the lines of Into Thin Air or Seabiscuit: a fascinating story that I wouldn't be able to put down. But I don't think Devil in the White City was as well written as either of them. This book could have been more of a page-turner, but it sort of fizzled out at the end, and I was left disappointed.


Blogger Meredith said...


I had some similar thoughts about Devil. Here's my review of it: I am clearly in no way proficient with html tags. Sorry.

11:08 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Thanks for that link, Meredith!

I totally don't mind graphic serial killer stuff (although I had the dreams too) but yeah, I felt like the two plots were really not integrated very well. Ah well!

11:11 AM  
Blogger doggerham said...

Have you read Larson's book about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane called "Isaac's Storm? The style is very similar -- something very eerie about his writing. But, I do agree that his writing lacks a certain flow.

Being originally from Chicago and a lover of all things about the Fair, I really enjoyed this. In fact, if you get down to Chicago, I *think* there is still an exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry about the fair. I've also heard the book has been opted for a movie.


1:15 PM  
Blogger doggerham said...

Here's an article about a woman who built a scale model of the fair. I heard about it on NPR a few months ago.

1:19 PM  

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