Saturday, September 17, 2011

Julie's Review: The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America Summary: he No. 1 New York Times bestseller about the architect who led the construction of the great Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and the prolific serial killer who used the fair as a lure. Just blocks from the fairgrounds, the killer built a hotel of horrors equipped with an acid vat, dissection table and crematorium. The book won an Edgar Award for best fact-crime writing, and was a finalist for a National Book Award. In November 2010, Leonardo DiCaprio acquired the rights to make a feature film based on Devil, and has stated he plans to play the role of the killer, Dr. H. H. Holmes.

Review: I was so looking forward to this book when Michelle Moran named it as one of her favorite narrative books. In fact, after she said that I went and ordered it straight away. Plus it's set in Chicago and it happens to be my favorite city. I have to say that I don't think Non-Fiction is my cup of tea. Erik Larson is a gifted writer, there is no doubt of that. He takes fact and weaves an interesting story with those facts. While the book does read like a fiction book, I found that it got so mired in fact and details that I would get lost. While I understand that it took a huge committee to pull off this World's Fair, I found it hard to keep the players straight at times.

What I found stunning about this time period was all the advancements in engineering and construction. How they were trying to figure out ways to make the soil in Chicago work for them and how they worked it to their advantage. I loved reading about the buildings that are still around today in the city. I loved how Chicago fought New York to get the fair and then had to continually fight to make it a success. People think that Landscape Architecture is a new phenomenon but it's not. This was a big part of the picture when developing the site for the fair and a big part of it's ending beauty.

I have to admit that I had no idea that Chicago had a serial killer running around during this time. H.H. Holmes was quite crafty and apparently quite the charmer. Not only was he a murderer but he was quite the debtor as well. He was apparently so charming that his creditors didn't pursue him more than a few times to receive their money. He was very intelligent and crafty which is why it took a long time to figure out what he was doing. He also had a very interesting way to dispose of the bodies.

While I enjoyed most of the historical perspective of the book, it didn't reel me in like I had hoped. It took me a long time to make my way through it and at times I wanted to give up on it. I did make it to the end and I'm glad I did. One can never know enough history about the city they grew up around.

I think I might be the only person that I know who didn't absolutely love this book. I did pass it on to a co-worker whom I know loves architecture and history, perhaps the book will be more up his alley.

I'm pretty sure that I would probably watch a movie based on the book though. I'm not sure if I will go on to read Mr. Larson's newest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlinor if I will pass. The jury is still out for me.

Final Take: 3.25/5


S. Leighanne September 17, 2011 at 11:52 AM  

I'm reading this right now for a book club!
I have to say that I'm not a huge nonfiction reader myself either, but I do love this history in it, and like you, I had no idea that such a serial killer even existed.
I find myself hardly retaining any of the information from the architect chapters, but loving the chapters about Holmes. It's very interesting, I'm only about halfway through myself.
Thanks for the review!

Julie September 17, 2011 at 4:13 PM  

I agree about the chapters on Holmes. I found them fascinating but in a disturbing way. :)

Lisa@ButteryBooks September 19, 2011 at 10:15 AM  

A friend just recommended this book to me. I am a huge fan of non-fiction so this may be one I like. Great review!

Farin September 19, 2011 at 4:59 PM  

This is on my TBR shelf. I wonder if I'll feel the same...

quirky girls September 27, 2011 at 9:43 AM  

My book club read this last year and it evoked some strong emotions from people. It was a mixed bag in my group. There were those that hated it, others loved, and some like me, just really liked it. I agree, it was difficult to keep some of the people straight, and there were some pages to skim over as sometimes the details were a bit much. However, I was so fascinated by everything I was learning that I kept going and I ended up really liking it. I think the author did a wonderful job making it interesting and reading more like fiction than nonfiction. However, there could have been a little more editing to make it more readable.


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