11.28.2004

what i'm reading

The Devil In The White City - Murder, Magic, and Madness At The Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson

This true (nonfiction) story takes place in Chicago in the 1890's, before and during the Great Columbian Exposition, an exhibition on a scale incomprehensible in today's world. It focuses on two men: Daniel Burnham, one of the greatest architects of the era (he designed the wonderful Flatiron Building, among many others), and a man known by the pseudonym H. H. Holmes, one of the most prolific serial murderers in recorded history.

I'm enjoying it very much. Having read easily a dozen (probably more) historical novels that take place in 19th Century New York City, I'm finding the Chicago backdrop new and intriguing. I love architecture, and I love cities, and my fascination with the 19th Century in general goes back to one of my earliest book-loves: Dickens, then other Victorian writers. I don't share many people's fascinations with serial killers, but if you're into that, there are plenty of gory details.

If you're reluctant to read history or nonfiction in general, this book would be an excellent introduction. It's written in a lively narrative style - that is, like a novel - although Larson's historical accuracy is said to be beyond reproach.

The story is framed by these two interlocking quotes:

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.
Daniel H. Burnham, 1893

I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.
Dr. H. H. Holmes, 1896

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