Monday Night Book Club: The Devil in the White City

By Abigail Fisher

The Devil in the White City
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

In honor of the pilot episode of the already highly acclaimed Hannibal (on NBC Thursday’s 10/9c), I thought it only apropos to review one of my favorite novels, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that changed America by Erik Larson.

The Devil in the White City details the numerous victims of serial killer Henry H. Holmes, a doctor taking advantage of naive young women flocking to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Larson’s descriptions of the murders become only more chilling once one discovers that The Devil in the White City is a work of nonfiction.

In the style of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Larson manages to spin a riveting story based entirely on fact. The journalistic nonfiction novel is not an easy stylistic choice, but Larson manages it wonderfully. He thoroughly captivates his readers through his intriguing investigation and attention to detail.

The Devil in the White City also maintains a narrative on architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, and his immense task of planning and executing the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the White City. Larson manages to give the reader an education on burgeoning urban architecture in America, while still maintaining human elements in the plot. The Devil in the White City will undoubtedly teach you something about the Gilded Age without ever feeling like a history lecture.

One of my favorite things about The Devil in the White City is the feeling it gives you of being transported back to an age in which America was building the foundations of our major cities. I may never be able to see the visually astonishing Chicago World’s Fair, but I feel like Larson gets us as close as we can through his minute descriptions of the promenades, the gardens and the overall excitement of the people regarding the entire spectacle for the first time.

Though I doubt the government will have funds in the near future to support a revival of the World’s Fair (that sequester was a doozy), one can’t help but wish for the magic and intrigue of the White City to revisit the American consciousness once again.

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