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A Devil in the White City | Book Insight


As Bruce Kendall describes in a customer review on the seller’s site, even though Amazon is in a spat currently over 4000 titles with publishers there are gems of history that are now ‘available in your hands in under a minute’

 Enjoy a tale of Serial killer history..not fiction

Erik Larson does a bang-up job of conveying what life must have been like in the “Second City” as the 19th century drew to its fitful conclusion. Bristling at the constant reminder of New York City’s superiority in so many areas, Chicago’s city fathers rallied the troops and went all out in proving to New Yorkers, to the nation and to the world that Chicago was equal to the great challenge of mounting a World Exposition of truly monumental stature. Larson’s descriptions of the Herculean effort put forth by numerous architects, builders, politicians, etc. lead the reader to a true appreciation of these “can do,” spirited individuals.

Yet beneath the teeming activity and a short distance away from the gleaming white Pleasure Palaces of the Fair, there stood a building of a different sort entirely, inhabited by one of the most vicious, truly evil creatures the young nation ever produced. Larson does an adequate, but not great job of telling the darker story surrounding H H Holmes, the mesmeric Svengali whose brilliant blue eyes and engaging charm seduced at least a score (one estimate was up to 200, which the author disputes) unfortunate women. Unlike Jack the Ripper, to whom he was later likened, he didn’t limit himself to female victims. Business partners who had outworn their usefulness and several children were amongst his prey, as well. He just had a penchant for murder.

The sections on the construction of the Columbia Exposition are filled with fascinating anecdotes, ranging from the origins of the sobriquet “windy city (derisively coined by Charles Anderson Dana, Editor of The New York Sun)” to the dramatic entrance of Annie Oakley, barreling in on horseback and blazing away with her two six-shooters in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Western Show adjacent to the Fair Grounds. Larson also provides an interesting side story surrounding Patrick Predergast, a delusional political aspirant who turns assassin. He paints a compelling portrait of Fredrick Law Olmstead, American History’s premier landscape architect who took up the almost impossible task of designing and overseeing the Exposition’s parks and lagoons. The hero of the book, however, is Daniel Hudson Burnham, who was ultimately responsible for the lion’s share of the planning, construction and smooth running of the entire enterprise. He had a little over two years from the time Congress selected Chicago from a list of candidate cities that included Saint Louis and New York, to the day of the Expo’s official opening. That he got the job done within the alloted time is one of the great marvels in an age of marvels, especially given the myriad difficulties which he and his crew had to overcome.

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