There has been lots of buzz around Erik Larson of late. He’s known for writing fabulous works of nonfiction, primarily historical. His sixth book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin recently came out in paperback.
I just finished reading The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. It covers the events surrounding the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. One of the key players in the book is Daniel Burnham, the architect who presided over practically every aspect of the fair from winning the bid for Chicago, creating a team of architects to design the fair, overseeing the construction, and making sure the fair turned a profit before it closed. I might add, because I knew practically nothing about this fair before reading the book, that the Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, was no mere carnival. Almost 200 new buildings were created, some of them architectural firsts for the age. Every state had its own building, and several countries had buildings there as well. An authentic Japanese temple was even assembled there. It was a big project and when finished became known as “The White City.”
The other leading figure is H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who used to fair as a means to lure unattached women to his hotel. Chicago was a terribly dangerous place around 1893, and Holmes found it terribly easy to get away with murder. He’s one of the first known serial killers in United States history.
Larson’s account of all these events is engaging and thoroughly researched–there are hundreds of citations at the end. I learned a lot about the period, some things about architecture, and some things I wish had never happened. Clearly I recommend.
I’m actually feeling quite immersed in this time period now. I just started watching Downton Abbey, which begins just where Devil in the White City leaves off in 1912, though Downton takes place “across the pond.”