Saturday, March 06, 2021

Sunday Synopsis

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title of this book is somewhat misleading. I was under the impression that it was mostly about serial killer H. H. Holmes. It was actually mostly about the architects and stakeholders of the World's Columbian Exposition, aka the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. I would guess about 1/3 was about Holmes; the rest, not. It was interesting, but not exactly what I thought I was getting into. It turns out that the fair held many "firsts" including those related to electricity, The Pledge of Allegiance, Aunt Jemima pancakes, peanut butter, the Ferris Wheel, Pabst Blue Ribbon, cream of wheat, and Juicy Fruit gum.

Holmes was the "devil," yet there is little evidence that he did anything except visit the fair (the White City) once or twice, and none of his crimes seems to have taken place there. I'm also not sure why the word "magic" was included in the title. Harry Houdini performed at the fair, but that was not mentioned in the book.

This was a fairly long book, but it was made difficult to read due to all of the quotations used. The author used quotes from memoirs, public records, personal accounts, diaries, and so on. In addition, I found myself having to look up an unusual amount of words such as troika, catafalque, gonfalons, and replevin, to name a few. It is atypical that I need to define this many words. I think this slowed down my reading. Thank goodness the dictionary is built into the Kindle.

Even though there wasn't as much detail about Holmes' "castle" or his crimes as I would have liked, I learned things I didn't know about both Holmes and the fair. In 2019, Hulu announced it would film a mini-series based on the book with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Holmes and Martin Scorsese directing. I'll be watching if it every happens.

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