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The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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One of the first quotations that the readers see when reading “The Devil in the White City” is a part of H. H. Holmes’s confession, and says, “I was born with the devil in me.” This served as a fitting prelude to the story found within these pages that, though not really centered on Holmes, is full of devils as well as great triumphs, and darkness as well as light. Erik Larson absorbs his readers into the late 1800’s at the Chicago World’s Fair so well that one almost believes it to be a made-up story, and the events themselves are, as the saying goes, stranger than fiction.
As the tagline of the book suggests, it is a recounting of the insane yet magical events of the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. Larson details the planning, building, and experience of the fair, though lingering on Daniel Burnham, the head architect, and the architecture in general more than anything else. He also writes about a man named Herman Mudgett, better known as H. H. Holmes, who was a doctor and serial killer active at the time of the fair, and whose choice victims were lovely young women. Holmes built what is now known as “Holmes’s Castle,” a strangely designed building that served as both a collection of stores and an apartment building to lure in potential victims.
Larson’s writing was fairly appropriate, given the subject matter. His use of language fit the mood very well most of the time, although sometimes it felt a little overdone. Even though I’m not a very big fan of nonfiction, he was able to draw me in anyways, and made even the parts about architecture entertaining. He set the book up in such a way that just when one thinks of putting it down, the setting changes and one finds themselves still reading.
The most interesting parts of the book, in my opinion, were Holmes’s chapters. The way that he treated and killed his victims was so disturbing that I think he is a serial killer bested only by Jack the Ripper, whose killing spree, ironically enough, happened at the same time as Holmes’s, only across the Atlantic. It’s somehow easier to look at a murderer who kills out of anger or jealousy than at one who does it out of enjoyment, which is why Holmes was so disturbing in nature. He enjoyed killing so much that he found it erotic, which truly makes one disappointed that he didn’t get caught sooner.
Overall, it was a very good book. It was well written and organized, and informing as well as entertaining. I admit that I never would have read it had it not been for a school assignment, but I’m very glad that I did and would certainly recommend it to others, especially to those inclined towards architecture, Chicago history, or simply murder stories. Both Burnham’s and Holmes’s stories are ones worth remembering, and this book captured them well.




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