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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

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.com Review

Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama
that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not,
in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible
for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was
immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to
construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's
incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody,
Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for
scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel,
complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic
personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating
chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are
both revealed through Larson's skillful writing. --John Moe

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From Publishers Weekly

Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster
Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of
Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893.
Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who
lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac's Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of
the vast fair and Holmes's relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly
claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes's co-star, architect and
fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair
together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities
to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal
system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile
Durkheim's Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities
for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be,
meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of "articulated"
corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed. 6 b&w photos, 1 map.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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