Sunday, April 29, 2007

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Larson weaves together the stories of two obsessed men in this interesting, dark historical novel.

I suppose that the work is non-fiction. These folks lived and died in much the way Larson tells it, though one suspects that he had to imagine quite a bit (to echo Han Solo) in order to provide us with this level of detail.

In the months leading up to the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair a killer worked Chicago. He lured young women to their deaths in an oddly productive way. This isn’t your lurid sex-fiend serial killer, so much as a homicidal opportunist with a zeal for capitalism.

At the same time, young America’s foremost architects, planners, landscape artists (Frederick Law Olmsted, father of Central Park, for example) were all gathered together to create a World’s Fair which would outdo the one put on by the Parisians some years earlier.

This was a fascinating look at large scale project management, the spirit of the age, attitudes and lifestyles at the turn of last century.

While the serial killer stuff almost felt tacked on to lend enough lurid wickedness to the tale to make it more mass marketable, the book was still fascinating, and made me understand why the Chicago World’s Fair of 1892 features so prominently in the mind of those young men and women who grew up in the early years of the 21st century.

Coming off the post-civil-war farm and into the White City of Chicago and the modern age must have been an incredible awakening for the country.

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