"'"He could look at himself in a mirror and tell himself that he was one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world,"' Swango's notebook read. '"He could feel that he was god in disguise."'"-- p. 388.
Erik Larson's 447 page book, The Devil in the White City, was published in 2003 by Crown Publishers.
Who should read this?
Anyone who is fascinated by history in general, or even more specifically the development of big cities such as Chicago, would find this to be a very intriguing read. Additionally, anyone who is attracted to crime and serial killers would find this to be a very satisfying read. Mix all of these elements together and you've got quite the historical thriller!
Other work by Larson:
The city of Chicago, Illinois was not always famous for being the hustling, bustling place it is today. Once upon a time, it was a regular city held to a lower-esteem, regarded more highly for the crime and litter that covered the city's streets than the booming businesses and flourishing companies. How did this image of the city begin to shift and become more of a happening place that people aspired to be a part of? The moment that Daniel Burnham became determined to host a miraculous world fair in Chicago as opposed to other well known places, like Central Park in New York City, the steps toward success began to slowly fall into place. Those steps took years and were not set in place easily. However, with time, patience, and determination, Chicago cleaned itself up, becoming the pristine "white" city that was expected by the world-class visitors of this fair. This fair was the first place Mr. Ferris created and hosted a Ferris Wheel, the first time that Shredded Wheats were sold and produced, and a place where many gathered, including Susan B. Anthony and Hellen Keller. Despite all of the positive inventions and people filling the city's streets, there was also an element of evil emanating from the walls of its buildings, too. That evil came from a man by the name of H. H. Holmes. At least that was one of his recognizable names. His murderous nature starts off small as the fair is in its early stages but soon spirals uncontrollably but unbeknownst within Chicago's community. How do they connect? How will he be stopped? How will the fair's success overcome his rising darkness? All of these elements are intertwined and explained well throughout this daring story.
Larson is a craftsman with his words. His style complements his storytelling by creating suspense and intrigue with every turn. Alternating between perspectives of the fair’s leading developer, Burnham, and Chicago’s most illusive serial killer, Holmes, the reader can hardly have a moment to set the book down for want of learning what will come next. Larson enchants and captures reader’s attention cleverly and carefully from start to finish.
Overall, the ball was slowly unrolling in the early stages of the book, not clearly demonstrating the extent to which each man will go toward their respective goals. Once each man started to face more barriers and it became unclear whether they’d be successful in creating or concealing the black marks on the city of Chicago, it was a quick and captivating read. It was educational and informative while offering entertainment and horrific notes, perfect for a history and thriller enthusiast.
The character development was well-crafted as well. Burnham was made to be a likable and driven man who the reader is sure to root for. While he is also picky, this is not a turn off as most people can relate to a person who has also sought after challenging goals. Holmes, too, is a likable man on the surface, similar to Ted Bundy. He was known for his looks and charm, sweeping others into deals and reaping the benefits afterwards. He was a killer you hated to see succeed and whose victims you pitied quite significantly, but also who you marveled at for his precise and cruel abilities and lack of self-incrimination. His ability to be so successful at being vile and criminal is remarkably disgusting, so remarkably disgusting, it’s hard not to recognize.
The history of Chicago is not one with which I was familiar before reading this story. Given, this is a small piece of an even larger story of a great big city, but this provided me with new insights in an interesting, informative way that captured my attention fully. My thirst for history and thriller was quenched while reading this novel. I enjoyed learning about how pristine and beautiful the city became for the world’s enjoyment and how dark and disgusting some underlying truths that simultaneously built the legend that has become the Windy City.