Book Review: The Devil in the White City

So to be honest, The Devil in the White City really took me by surprise.

Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller In the Garden of Beasts—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

The above quote was all I knew about the book when I started to read it, and I wasn’t too sure how the 1893 World’s Fair and a serial killer could be in the same story.

What was really surprising is that having both of those things in the same books somehow works!

Both aspects were keeping me on the edge of my seat, and surprisingly at times I was more interested in the World Fair aspect rather than the serial killer.

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Since it’s telling two mostly unrelated stories, I’ll review each part as its own.

First we will look at the construction of the World’s Fair.

This part of the book actually taught me a lot both as a PR student and a histroy lover. Being a PR student and learning about event planning made me think of how this fair was planned and some of the things that could have been done to make it run smoother. (CRITICAL PATH!!!)

It’s also a non-fiction book, so a lot of what’s inside is true, or close to the truth. One of the many things I learned from the book: Walt Disney’s dad worked at the “White City” as the World Fair was called, and Disney World is inspired by the White City as well.

There are plenty of other cool historical treats in the book too, but I don’t want to give them away.

The book is actually quite the history lesson though. At the time of the book, America is still a relatively new country in the world and is jut leaving its mark. I’d say the book shows one of, if not the, defining moment that put American culture on the map.

I’m Canadian so I’m not too concerned about American culture, but as a lover of history, I would say this was when America adopted their “narcissism” that many of us know them for today.

Again, I don’t want to ruin the book at all so I can’t say much else, but I’m sure you’ll notice the same things if you read it too.

Now let’s get to why most of you are probably here. 

For whatever reason a lot of people have some weird fascination with serial killers. Theres a lot of books, movies, and Netflix shows dedicated to dozens of different serial killers, and people gobble it up like its food.

I personally don’t get the fascination but who am I to judge.

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H.H Holmes, the serial killer in the book, is considered to be one of the most horrific serial killers in US history. I’m sure many people know a lot more about him than I do, but he basically built an entire house that was designed just to kill people.

It is messed up! He killed his wives, employees, and even random strangers. He would lie about who he was, change his name, and pretend to be people he had killed, and would use that to bring more people into his home and kill them.

I think it would have been really cool to see his house, or Murder Castle as it’s now known, but it’s now a post office… To see the hallways that lead to nothing, the secret rooms, the gas chamber… Oh the explorer in me is jealous!

The Murder Castle has actually gone on to inspire some modern adaptations. One that comes to mind are American Horror Story: Hotel. The Hotel itself has a lot of comparisons to what the Murder Castle was at the time.

Obviously it’s impossible to know everything that Holmes did, but I think the book does a pretty good job at making the reader understand H.H. Holmes and the processes he went through for killing people.

If you want a brief overview of what he did the History Channel has a good webpage about bim here.

Verdict: Worth the read. The mix between the building of the World Fair and H.H. Holmes killing people somehow works nicely, without taking away from either aspect.

I honestly don’t understand people’s fascination with serial killers, but maybe you guys can help me understand. Lemme know why they interest you so much.

Next week I’m gonna keep going with the theme of killing and review a book all about torture. Hope you’ll enjoy!

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