Book Review: 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

447 pp. Vintage $20.50

Years ago you wouldn’t have caught me reading a nonfiction book unless it was assigned as homework.

Admittedly, it’s still not my favorite genre. Like most people, I’m pressed for time so when I read for pleasure I like something that is easy and fast-paced. And although nonfiction has stepped up its game, not all books are captivating.

I picked up The Devil in the White City two or three years ago, read a few pages and took it back to the library. I just couldn’t get into it. But it’s remained on my to-read list because I knew it had promise.

Fast forward to today, when I’m in love with true crime and history podcasts, I picked it up again and couldn’t get enough of it.

The book is so much more than a story about how the Chicago World’s Fair was built and the man behind it interspersed with the story of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. It is a cross-sectional view of America at a time of major change.

The Devil in the White City is not an easy read or is it fast-paced. It is heavy with facts and history and references and life. It has so much detail, I almost felt like I was there. And I loved the fly by facts. In one part, it referenced that crime had increased including the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Borden. He didn’t go into any further details or say who the Bordens were, leaving it to the reader to already know.

When I finished, it was like having read three books; the H.H. Holmes story, the building of the World’s Fair, and a social history of life in the 1890s.

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