The Devil in the White City is a riveting chronicle of the personality confilcts, economic challenges and strokes of pure bad luck that plagued the architects who created the Chicago World's Fair. Tantilizing bits of information are dropped throughout about Dr. H.H. Holmes and the horrors he committed in his house, and we are treated to dribbles of information on the workings of his clearly damaged mind, but the teaser is never satisfied. 95% of the book focuses on the Fair and immensely satisfies the curiosity of those who really wonder how it all came together as a fleeting flash of historical greatness, but the 5% we get on Dr. Holmes and his unfortunate victims is almost an afterthought. It seems as though Larsen's original intent was to juxtapose the brightness of the fair and the brilliance of its architects against the darkness of a mad mind calculating the slow torture and death of his victims, but overall the battle of light and dark seems to be waged between the public perception of the Fair's creation as something that magically happened and the reality of the down-and-dirty struggle to realize a dream against enormous odds. Another 50 or so pages of investigation and detail, rather than scores upon scores of endnotes that refer to documents unavailable to the general public, would have been more satisfying. Nevertheless, the sparcity of detail on Holmes' crimes is sufficient to ignite the reader's further interest. Criminologists will no doubt find it disappointing, but overall, the book is a grand read for anyone interested in urban history, architecture or sociology.
I should have read this years ago. One of the best books I have every read. This is especiallly interesting to anyone from in and around Chicago. So much information about arcitecture in Chicago, along with the suspense of a good and true murder mystery.
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