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07 September 2014

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson is the story of the Chicago World Fair and one of the first known serial killers in the United States.

After the Paris World Fair, that included the impossible construction of the Eiffel Tower, some people felt that the United States needed to answer with an event of our own to show our place in the world. A few different cities put their names in the hat and Congress voted to have the Fair in Chicago.

The design of the grounds, from where to build, to what to build and how to surpass the Paris event was rife with so many committees that by the time decisions were made there was doubt about time left to build. Architects Root and Burnham who were the top architects in Chicago were put in charge. They recruited architects from around the country and the landscape architect Olmsted. The one decision that had left to be made was who was going to build something that could surpass the Eiffel Tower?

While the Fair grounds began construction, a man calling himself H.H. Holmes moved to Chicago. Through dishonest that had not yet been seen in business, Holmes build himself a small empire beginning with the purchase of a pharmacy. Eventually he built his own building with hidden rooms. Not only was he a dishonest business man who made up people on whom to pile debt, people had a tendency to disappear around him.

Larson is a master story teller and a consummate researcher. His narrative nonfiction flows in a way that others strive to match. If he writes about anything you are remotely interested in, buy the book.

Larson, Erik. (2003). The Devil in the White City. New York: Vintage Books.

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