Non-Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This is another historical nonfiction novel by Erik Larson, who’s really a wonderful writer in this genre. This book I listened to on audiobook and in retrospect, I’m glad I did. It’s pretty dense and I imagine can be difficult to plough through.

The Devil in the White City follows the lives of two men. Daniel Hudson Burnham, the Columbian Exhibition’s director of works and American’s first serial killer, Henry H. Holmes, who lured men and women to his “World’s Fair Hotel” – a place of torture with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. All told in a dramatic and poignant way, it’s a gripping book.

I’ll say straight up, I started reading this believing it to be mostly about H.H. Holmes – my fascination with the gorier moments of history being a troubling aspect of my interests. But it’s really not.

Mostly, it’s about the quite frankly impossible creation of the Columbian Exhibition. For those who don’t know, the Columbian Exhibition was a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. The architects involved were determined to create something which would rival The Exposition Universelle of 1889 – the world fair held in Paris. Under pressure, underfunded and overworked, these men spent their time infighting, working around the clock and even dying, determined to put the fair first.

Also, it’s a fascinating story, it’s not the one I originally signed up for. But once I settled into it, I ended up really enjoying it.

My only real criticism, in fact, it the amount of jumping the book does. We follow the stories of half a dozen people and I did get pretty confused at several points. Hence being glad that this was on audiobook as it meant I could jump back when I needed to.

But I would definitely read this again and I’m giving it a rating of 4 stars.



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