I have to give major props to my book club.  We’ve pretty much run the gamut on genres.  Last time we had a heart-wrenching piece of fiction that was based on historical events.  This time we had The Devil in the White City, a historical account of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that read like fiction (for the most part). 

I was super psyched to read this for lots of reasons.  First, I needed a book that would allow me to disengage, emotionally.  The last one ripped my heart out.  Second, it seems like in high school my history teachers never could make it past the Civil War.  We’d set out with a syllabus that said we get to reconstruction and the industrial revolution, but somehow we always ran out of time.  And this book promised to help me learn more about this country’s almost-modern history.

At first I was a little disappointed by this book.  It was billed as something that read more like a murder-mystery than a historical account.  And while it did read a lot better than a textbook would, it certainly did not feel like a newfangled Sherlock Holmes. 

The constant bickering of the architects bogged me down in the beginning, too.  Later, once you get knee deep into the fair, you start to realize why Larson needed to include this part but it was a bit tough to get through initially.  To Larson’s credit, I think he may have realized how monotonous the architect’s arguments would be for his readers.  Throughout each chapter there are section breaks, sometimes more than one per page, that allows you to say, “okay, enough for today,” and not feel like you’ve stopped at point that disrupts the narrative. 

But then you get to the good stuff…and I may be the most morbid person alive…but the parts that really drew me in were the sections about Holmes, the murder.  So often I’ve heard people say, “Criminals are really dumb!  They don’t even plan stuff out so that they have a chance to get away!  If it were me, I’d…” This is the one guy throughout history that carefully planned out his crimes in such a way that would almost eliminate the possibility of getting caught.  It was intense and intriguing to see how his mind worked.  Towards the end the cruelty of his actions got a bit much to bear, but thankfully most of the 390 pages were not filled with gruesome details.

And I did enjoy learning about some of the quirkier aspects of late 19th century American history.  I won’t spoil some of the “surprises,” but it’s kind of cool to know how we ended up with some of the products/mechanisms that we take for granted today.

If you’re into American history or just looking for something a little different from the average fiction book, definitely pick this one up.


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