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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, Madness, And The Fair That Changed America » User review

History as Fiction and Better For It

  • Aug 1, 2007
  • by
Rating:
+3
A reader of The Devil in the White City can't help but notice that
the author uses the style and techniques of a novelist. Tiny out-
of-place observations in one chapter become crucial several
chapters on. The story is told with the voice of a suspenseful tale
even though the exact details are widely known. The narration
shifts in thoroughly post-modern style between two perspectives.
There's also a wonderful balance between hopeful, upbeat
American can do-ism and dark, twisted evil.

But there is another link between this jolly good read and the
style of the novel. The best novels give us a sense of place and
time. We live in the novel's world while we read it. Larson has
built this novel with the same sense of immediacy. The World's
Fair is presented to us as if we were citizens of rural America in
1893. We learn not just the details, but the sense of wonder that
it must have inspired.
His creepy Dr. Holmes is almost as real, a palm-sweat-producing
villain whose undoing will make you sigh with relief.

Larson's accomplishment makes you wonder what is lacking in most
of the history that we encounter. Why does our own national story seem
so remote, more like a recitation of lists than a tale?
Occasionally, Larson's fictive voice gets in the way and feels manipulative.
It sometimes shares the technique of the teaser on TV and leaves the
reader feeling used. But ground is broken here. A nation that's
disconnected from its past by its preference for mere entertainment
may end up reconnected by better entertainment.


--Lynn Hoffman, author of New Short Course in Wine,The and
bang BANG: A Novel ISBN 9781601640005

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More The Devil In The White City: M... reviews
review by . September 30, 2008
Creepy-cool history of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, intertwined with the history of the serial killer H. H. Holmes who was operating at and around the Fair and may have accounted for anywhere from 9 (confirmed) to 50 (suspected) to even 200 (conjectured) murders.     Reads like an atmospheric slasher novel, except it is history, and thoroughly footnoted from contemporary accounts as well as secondary sources. The couple of scenes where Larson assumes an omniscient authorial …
review by . May 19, 2010
Murder, Mayhem, and National Pride
Erik Larson must have spent a year just doing the research for The Devil in the White City. I probably learned more about our nation's history from reading this book than I did in an entire college course. In the book, Larson combines two stories: the story of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the story of H.H. Holmes, one of the U.S.'s first serial killers. This is an incredible story, and each page of the book is filled with little tidbits that make you think, "Hmm...why did …
review by . October 09, 2010
As Chicago entered the final decade of the 19th century, it was a black city with a black heart, a figurative and literal pig sty run by a civil administration rife with graft and dominated by the stink of the pig slaughtering industry that was run by the local equivalent of capitalist robber barons. In a shocking affront to New York City's insufferable sense of superiority, Chicago's city fathers somehow won the right to host the 1893 World Fair. Despite the astonishing crime rates, the …
Quick Tip by . October 09, 2010
An interesting, informative and exciting juxtaposition of two wildly different historical events that took place in Chicago - the creation of the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the terror of America's first documented serial killer, Dr H.H. Holmes.
review by . July 15, 2010
I'm not usually a fan of non-fiction but this book was amazing. I was spellbound as I read. The author did a great job of describing the time period, it made me almost sad to live now and not then. I was in awe at the descriptions of architecture and building even though I previously had no experience with either of these. That, combined with the descriptions of the "evil" guy's psychotic personality was a great combination that kept me turning the pages. I would recommend …
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
good stuff, learned a lot and got freaked out!
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Loved this! Great look at a unique moment in history and a little known serial killer - nicely woven into one.
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
An excellent combining of history with imagination. Erik Larsen weaves plots together in this book with great skill!
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
wow!
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
Enjoyed the dark subject matter and historical recount of the world's fair.
About the reviewer
Lynn Hoffman ()
Ranked #903
I cook therefore I. .therefore I eat. No, maybe that's thereby I eat'.   Anyway, I love food, beer and wine: I like to write about them too,(The New Short Course in Wine is adapted from … more
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Wiki

The 1893 Chicago World's Fair is the setting for this true account of two very different men: the celebrated architect Daniel H. Burnham, who designed and supervised the construction of the "White City" around which the fair was built; and H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett), a fiendishly clever serial killer posing as a doctor, who murdered scores of people, mostly young women, in his World's Fair Hotel, which contained a gas chamber and a handy crematorium for disposing of his victims. Telling their entwined stories in alternating points of view, Erik Larson illuminates the lives of these two men, but also provides insightful commentary on the changes that were taking place in American society that allowed both phenomena--a grandiose World's Fair and a string of unsolved murders--to take place. The book contains cameo appearances by such late-19th-century celebrities as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison.
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Tags

Books, Book, Cafe Libri, Usa, History, 19th Century, Chicago Worlds Fair

Details

ISBN-10: 0375725601
ISBN-13: 978-0375725609
Author: Erik Larson
Genre: History
Publisher: Vintage
Date Published: May 03, 2005
First to Review
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