I stumbled upon this book when I was a senior in college. Poor as I was, I waited until it was available for a “discount” at Amazon. I picked it up from my little campus mail box on my way to my English comprehensive exam – something I had to pass to get my degree. But instead of following suit and cramming scraps of info into my over-taxed brain, I opened this book instead. I read 10 pages before the professor called the test to order and made me trade in my new book for his floppy, empty blue ones. While obviously it wasn’t all I could think of during the test (I aced it), I was anxious to dive into it during the summer. And as I left NH that summer, I finished it sitting on a porch in Savannah. Since then, it has become classic in my library.
Historian and author Erik Larson hit literary gold when he found the true tale of a charming and frightening man who plied his dastardly trade against the background of one of Man’s greatest achievements. H.H. Holmes (one of many iterations of his name) terrorized Columbian Chicago as an American Jack the Ripper. While Chicagoans prepared the waterfront with a dazzling display of architecture and invention, Holmes preyed on the kindness of strangers, and practiced on the darker side of human nature.
Painstakingly researched, this book shifts between chronicling the World’s Fair that changed America’s world standing and the inhuman monster who lurked under its electric lights. A book about either of these subjects on their own would have been interesting. Juxtaposed the story finds an incredible energy and reads like a novel. For me, it fostered an extreme curiosity in the 1893 fair. I find myself searching through old map and photograph stores for ephemera from the fair. My prized piece so far is a postcard from an attendee to her friend in Ohio.
If you haven’t come across this book so far, check it out. But set aside a couple days. It is so engrossing – you won’t be able to put it down.
Paperback: 447 pages
Publisher: Vintage (February 10, 2004)
Learn about the Fair, see pictures and more here: http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/devilinthewhitecity/home.html