The Chicago World’s Fair was meant to instill bewilderment and wonder into its visitor’s hearts. In his book, “The Devil in the White City,” Erik Larson vividly depicts why the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, meant to “secure America’s place in the world,” almost failed to exist. The book tells the twisted tale of Daniel Burnham’s awe-inspiring architectural dream and shows the heartbreak of great visions by great men that fall short. Larson simultaneously walks his reader through the riveting and true murder mystery of Dr. Henry H. Holmes, who used the glamour of “the fair to lure the victims to their death.”
Intertwined with Holmes’ story of seduction and graphic murder, Larson squeezes loads of historical detail into the book. And he has a plethora of enticing historical tid-bits to choose from. The Chicago World’s Fair was the first place the world saw Shredded Wheat, Juicy Fruit and Cracker Jacks. It was also where the Ferris Wheel, meant to outshine Paris’ Eiffel Tower, was first unveiled and where some of the greatest faces of the century made appearances: Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Clarence Darrow and Susan B. Anthony.
The Chicago Sun-Times called Larson a “Historian.with a novelist’s soul.” I challenge you to read this book even if history is a subject that bores you. The pages turn themselves as the tale unfolds and the story gracefully moves back and forth from Burnham to Holmes. “The Devil in the White City” is suspenseful, informative and intoxicating. It’s ingenious.
Staff writers Lauren Richardson and Whitney Upshaw can be reached at email@example.com.