The Devil in the White City reads like a genius fiction but it actually based entirely on fact. It’s the story of Chicago being picked to host the world fair in 1892, how against all odds it came together, and about a murderer living in the midst of the chaos.
For contexts sake, I started this book at the beginning of summer and then lent it to a friend so I didn’t actually finish until a few days before Lollapalooza. Not reading it all in one sitting was annoying but it ended up working out because I finished it right before I actually went to Chicago, where this really took place. They don’t teach this story in history class but they definitely should.
It seems like literally everything that could go wrong for those in charge of the fair, namely Daniel Burnham, does. Natural elements, money problems, deaths, strikes, international diplomacy issues, the whole nine yards. In spite of that everything gets done about on time and the fair becomes a huge success, surpassing even the Paris exposition from 1867. There were also an insane amount of inventions and architectural breakthroughs that came about because of the fair. Although things weren’t suddenly smooth and easy after opening day.
Even more fascinating in my opinion is the elusive Dr. Homes. To start, Homes isn’t his real name it’s just his most used alias and he doesn’t actually seem to have any training as a doctor. In the years leading up to the opening ceremony, Homes owns a pharmacy, builds a boarding house, is married to a few women, has some kids, and appears to be involved in the disappearance of about 20 people.
Aside from my fascination with the plot, this book is impressive from an academic perspective. It gives a huge scope of historic information without overwhelming you or losing your interest. That alone shows Larson’s genius as a story teller. He had to pick and choose which details to include to keep the story flowing without getting distracted from the main points. And he was successful on the -accurate but still interesting- issue all the way down to the details; the emotions and reactions of the “characters” come from letters, journals, and eye witness accounts.
As I’m sure you gathered, I’m a big fan. (Maybe I should work on hiding my reactions…) If reading an unbelievable mystery that ends up being true is your thing, I would totally recommend this novel. As someone who has come to expect 45 minute crimes that end with the bad guy always in jail, it was enjoyable to watch how this unfolded in a more realistic sense. So read it.
I was getting ready for Lolla while I was reading this, as I mentioned, so here are some artists I was listening to at the same time I read this literary gem.
- Secret Weapons
- Oh Wonder
- Years and Years
- And like I do almost all the time anyway, The 1975