My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and pick this shit up NOW.
I ended up getting this on a whim, mainly based on Parr and Norris mentioning on here they were planning on reading it eventually. I had seen the book around and recognized the cover (this comes from working in a bookstore for several years…), but assumed it was subpar fiction, at most.
Turns out its historical nonfiction, but with a story so rich and engaging, it’s hard to believe that Larson didn’t make some of it up.
Devil in the White City tells the tale of the bid for-and then subsequent planning of–the Chicago World’s Fair at the turn of the century. It mainly follows the trials and tribulations of one of its main planners, Daniel Burham, who was out to prove the his own merits along with those of his beloved city. At the same time he strives to achieve greatness (along with a cast of familiar and not-so-familiar characters around him), two other men are slipping further and further into a darkness that will equally shape the city during the turn-of-the-century.
Larson’s story telling is amazing and made reading the nearly 400 pages effortless. It was interesting to read all the different stories that were evolving at the same time and see how, though seemingly separate, they all wove into each other and created a rich, unbelievable story that just seems too good/weird/crazy to be true at times.
I appreciated the great depths Larson took with his research, but appreciated how he was able to counter that with perfect pacing and storytelling. Oftentimes non-fiction goes wrong by trying to be painstakingly matter-of-fact. Although he definitely tries his best to be accurate, he does make some embellishments and assumptions (mainly based on the crimes where primary sources weren’t available to flesh out all the details…) that help to answer the questions that race through the readers mind–mainly why, or how, could a person do some of the horrible things this one man has done?
I’ve walked away from this book more curious than ever about Chicago at the turn of the century, the impact of the fair on our country, and a lot of the big wigs/main players in the inception of the fair. Specifically, I’m really interested in learning more about Olmsted, the man behind the landscaping who is credited for, among several other projects, planning Central Park. He probably stands out as one of my favorite “characters” in the book. My only fear is not being able to find another book on the subject as captivating, accurate, and entertaining as The Devil in the White City.
Seriously. Read this book. Now.