By Taylor Forrest
On one side of the city, the scent of foreign foods, freshly laid concrete and luscious flowers mingle in the air. However, not even three miles south, the acrid smell of burnt flesh, acid pits and death choke off any sweet scent.
“The Devil in the White City,” ties together catastrophe and magic to take readers on a historical visit to 1893. It introduces the reader to the extravagance of the World’s Columbian Exposition, otherwise known as the World’s Fair, while giving them a glimpse of the anguish, crime, and evil that the fair also ushered in.
The novel, written by Erik Larson, won an Edgar Award for nonfiction crime writing and was on the New York Times Bestsellers list for more than five years. Larson has also written “Dead Wake,” “In the Garden of Beasts,” “Thunderstruck,” “Isaac’s Storm,” “Lethal Passage,” and the “Naked Consumer.”
Larson vividly describes the making of the World’s Fair, which was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in the “New World” in 1492. He does this while introducing the emergence of another demanding monster, H. H. Holmes.
H. H. Holmes, one of many aliases for Herman Webster Mudgett, is known as the first documented serial killer in the United States. “The Devil in the White City” follows the twisted methodology that Holmes used to prey on young girls coming to Chicago because of the opportunity the World’s Fair posed.
The book also gives readers an insight to the life of the Director of Works for the World’s Columbian Exposition, Daniel Burnham. Burnham faced the impossible and built a city in a few short years despite worldwide financial panic and forces of nature that threatened to end the fair before it had even begun.
This difficult to digest book is not for the faint of heart, nor is it easy to read. Larson crams as many details as he can in 350 pages, but once you get through them, it is a rewarding read and you come away that much more knowledgeable.
“The Devil in the White City,” will have you flipping from a page awed by the enormity of the fair, and throw you into a whirlwind of deception and evil. Larson reveals a contradictory world that allows you to see that not everything is what it seems.
Taylor Forrest is a freshman majoring in communication. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org