Let’s Discuss — The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The corpses of dogs, cats, and horses often remained where they fell. In January they froze into disheartening poses; in August they ballooned and ruptured. Many ended up in the Chicago River, the city’s main commercial artery. During heavy rains, river water flowed in a greasy plume into Lake Michigan, to the towers that marked the intake pipes for the city’s drinking water (28)

Let’s see*…the majority of the book is a meticulous recounting** of American architects and engineers banding together in 1893, to place a fair in Chicago representative of American exceptionalism, worthy of international praise and symbolic of the nation’s great legacy and innovation of the future.

What is it–Murphy’s law? Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. That’s a basic description of the planning, opening, success and demise of the fair; weather disasters, politics, a bad economy, labor unions, accidents, vandalism, crime…wrong measurements, rejected blueprints…newspaper headlines. Every possible detail that can be accounted for in the existence of this fair is recounted. I suppose that’s good research on Larson’s part. But for this reader it really dragged…except for the chapters on Holmes, the psychopath predator, and Prendergast, a mentally ill man with political aspirations. These chapters could have belonged in a different book altogether. But they’re flawed in the same way. There is no intrigue. No tension. Larson loves to foreshadow to a fault.

Where was the magic and madness?***

*If you couldn’t tell by the brevity of this write up, I was very disappointed with this one.

**Novelistic/Narrative non-fiction may not be my cup of tea.

***The title in its entirety is–The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.

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