Friday, July 15, 2011

"OH MY GOSH! THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD!!!": Devil in the White City

I can't begin to count the number of times I've picked this book up at Barnes and Noble in the last few years, only to put it back and purchase something else (quite possibly a romance novel).  Well, the author Erik Larson has a new bestseller out this summer called In the Garden of Beasts (2011) that is supposed to be incredible and I desperately want to read.  I made a deal with myself that I could buy it, but I had to borrow Devil in the White City (2003) from the library and read that first.  (I know this sounds strange to be making childish deals about books with myself, but I didn't want to waste money on an author that I may end up disliking.  Yet another reason that libraries kick major ass).

So after a short stay on the library waiting list, I finally got this book in my hot little hands...and it rarely left.  This book was absolutely fascinating! Devil in the White City is a non-fiction book that simultaneously follows the planning and construction of the 1893 Chicago's World Fair and a local serial killer who used the fair to entice his innocent female victims.  I knew a little about the 1893 World's Fair from an art history class I took in college, but to read about the enormous hurdles that the Fair's architects had to overcome to complete it, was so absorbing.  Obviously when I began the book I knew that the Fairgrounds would be finished and open on time, but it was like watching Titanic.  You know the damn ship is going to sink at the end, but it doesn't stop you from becoming obsessed with the story and holding out a little hope each time that they'll notice that stupid iceberg and Jack and Rose will live to have sex in many more steamy cars. point is, you know the fair (which is referred to as the White City because all of the main buildings were painted brilliantly white) is finished on time, but it doesn't make the story any less interesting or engrossing.  If anything, the beauty and architectual triumphs of the fair become even more impressive after learning of the incredibly hard work that was involved in it's construction. 
The White City, Chicago World's Fair 1893 (

So while I would have been content with an entire book about the Chicago's World Fair, Larson also follows the unbelievable story of Dr. H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who owns a hotel not far from the Fair.  The story of Holmes' life full of aliases and lies, was so disturbing that I found myself rushing through chapters about the Fair's construction in order to learn more about Holmes and his diabolical plots to murder and exploit his victims.  Larson totally understood this when he was writing too, because he'd have like 5 chapters in a row about Holmes and then BAM! you're reading about the architect's dilemma regarding alternating current vs. direct current (which sounds boring, but I promise it's not).  It's like he knew that you needed a break from the freakshow that is Holmes, so he'd interrupt with all of these incredible anecdotes about Fair.  Seriously, the amount of trivia I learned from this book was unreal.  Every chapter I would have an "huh! I didn't know that!" moment and have to race to Google to find out more.  I love when a non-fiction book can do that.  That's why we read, right? To learn things?
So some of you are probably thinking, "I don't know.  I'm not really into non-fiction".  No! This isn't your typical non-fiction book.  It is a quick read with engrossing characters that truly reads like a novel.  I promise you'll love it and if you don't, you're still a winner for reading (readers are leaders, you know).  I deemed this book a sucess because I contined to think about it when it was over.  I want to make another trip to Chicago now that I've learned more about the history and culture that built it and I've scoured the Internet for pictures of the White City.  I'm even more excited because I read that Leo (that would be Leonardo Dicaprio...we're on a first name basis) bought the movie rights to the book and wants to star as the serial killer Holmes.  Ah!! See now you have to read it so you can impress all your friends when you tell them you read the book before the movie (does anyone else love doing that?) and impress them with all of the facts and details they left out of the movie.  So please, please, please read this book and let me know what you think.  While you're doing that I'll be reaping my rewards and reading In the Garden of Beasts.  A deal is a deal...

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