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review 2018-09-16 18:32
The Devil in the White City ★★★☆☆
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

While interesting, this book was just not very satisfying, in the end. If it was supposed to be a story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, then I would have wanted a lot more of the first person experiences of those who attended it and more of how it impacted daily life in the century that followed. If it was supposed to be a story of H.H. Holmes and his murder castle, then I would have wanted a little more in depth about his victims and the society and atmosphere that allowed him to operate as he did. Instead, it was both stories, sort of folded into one another, but not really meshing. Plus another superficially told story of the Chicago mayor’s murder. Altogether, it was an okay read, but tbh I skimmed a lot of the parts detailing all the politics and finances and schmoozing that went into getting the Fair built.

 

One thing was clear, and that is that the targeting and victimizing of vulnerable women is the same as it ever was:

Rather, the trick lay in choosing a woman of the correct sensibility. Candidates would need a degree of stenographic and typewriting skill, but what he most looked for and was so very adept at sensing was that alluring amalgam of isolation, weakness, and need. Jack the Ripper had found it in the impoverished whores of Whitechapel; Holmes saw it in transitional women, fresh clean young things free for the first time in history but unsure of what that freedom meant and of the risks it entailed. What he craved was possession and the power it gave him; what he adored was anticipation – the slow acquisition of love, then life, and finally the secrets within.

 

 

Hardcover edition. I read this for the 2018 Halloween Bingo square Creepy Carnivals: horror/mystery/supernatural/suspense set in or concerning a carnival, amusement park, or other party/festival. This book fits as the setting is the Worlds Fair, even including the first ever Ferris Wheel.

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review 2018-09-02 23:05
The Devil Comes to Chicago
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

If I had to rate the Henry H. Holmes sections I would give it 5 stars, the same for the Daniel Hudson Burnham sections. Together though, this is a solid four star book. I think trying to mesh Holmes and Burnham together doesn't really work in the end. Probably because we follow Holmes after the Fair and we see what he got up to. I wish that Larson had provided more details, it seemed fairly short in the end. We just hear how Holmes was encased in cement, his grave missing. Burnham died after learning of a friend dying on the Titanic. 

 

Daniel Burnham c1890.jpeg

Daniel Hudson Burnham

 

 

Related image

 

Henry H. Holmes

 

Larson starts his tale with going into Burnham's life as he goes across the ocean and then jumps back to his beginning and how he and his former partner, John Root would  oversee design and construction of the World's Columbian Exposition otherwise known as the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Burnham seems plagued with bad luck while the other subject of this book seems to have the devil's own luck.

 

Henry H. Holmes was a serial killer who took to Chicago quite easily. Larson traces how he came to Chicago and charmed a soon to be widow who then disappeared after their acquaintance. Holmes seemed to have an uncanny ability in attracting men and women alike. Married multiple times, he seemed to always be several steps ahead of the police, creditors, and others when they came looking for money or missing family members.

 

Larson eventually loops in the man who will bring down Holmes, Frank Geyer's sections of the book were so engrossing. This is a man who hoped to track down missing children who were last seen with Holmes, never understanding that the man had something missing in him that many others had remarked about before.

 

The writing was too clinical at times, though it's a nonfiction book, I would have liked to see more passion by the author. The flow was not great up front. I know a lot of reviewers got annoyed by the Burnham sections. They tended to get better at the halfway point once Larson included other real life people such as Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and many others. I think if he had split this book into two it would have many people exclaiming how good it was.

 

The setting of the book is Chicago and Larson does his best to set a stage of Chicago in the late 1800s. You could practically smell the stench while reading. Larson includes fires, strikes, and many other things that occurred in Chicago at the same time as Holmes and his infamy. 


The ending needed a bit more oomph in my opinion. We hear about Holmes end, but I wanted to know more. Considered America's first serial killer, I wanted to know more about Holmes poor victims and what happened to the families after his death.

 

Burnham we find died in Germany in 1912, sixteen years after Holmes was sentenced to death. 

 

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text 2018-09-02 18:27
Reading progress update: I've read 50%.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

Wow, so was Holmes Manson before Manson was a thing? Everyone talks about how he was able to attract women and men to him. I feel so bad for these women you are hearing about who were taking in by the guy who then murdered them, and sold their skeletons for a profit to medical schools.

 

Barnham seems to be going through some bad luck trying to get the World's Fair design going.

 

The sections on Holmes though are eye opening and still are more intriguing to me as a true crime reader. Larson makes you feel as if you are standing besides these people and have the ever elusive and inhumane Holmes peering into you.


Shudder.

 

Perfect read for Halloween Bingo though.

 

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text 2018-09-02 02:24
Reading progress update: I've read 25%.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

Well the sections following Holmes are good. The initial sections following Burnham were good, but quickly got boring at least to me. I rather follow Holmes. The book feels a bit overstuffed at the moment. It's interesting to see what Holmes was up to in Chicago when Jack the Ripper was terrifying White Chapel at the same time.

 

“Holmes was charming and gracious, but something about him made Belknap uneasy. He could not have defined it. Indeed, for the next several decades alienists and their successors would find themselves hard-pressed to describe with any precision what it was about men like Holmes that could cause them to seem warm and ingratiating but also telegraph the vague sense that some important element of humanness was missing.” 

 

Very interesting that the first time psychopath was used was in the 1870s to describe this lack of humaness. 

 

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text 2018-09-01 23:37
Reading progress update: I've read 5%.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

Well so far loving the illustrations and how the book is being set up. I have been meaning to read about Henry H Holmes for years. Tying him together with architect Daniel Hudson Burnham is very interesting. 

 

Reading about the Chicago's World Fair in 1893 seems surreal. I cannot imagine going into a place that got around 700,000 visitors a day. The sites that were built some beyond comprehension.

 

I am reading this one for the Creepy Carnivals square. 

 

 

 

 

 

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