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The devil in the white city : murder, magic, and madness at the fair that change
Erik Larson
Adult Nonfiction HV6248.M8 L37 2003

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac's Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of the vast fair and Holmes's relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes's co-star, architect and fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile Durkheim's Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of "articulated" corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed. 6 b&w photos, 1 map. (Feb.) Forecast: With this book, Larson builds on the success of Isaac's Storm. Anyone with an interest in American history-in particular fans of Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough-should find much to engross them here. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Fresh from the triumph of Isaac's Storm, which told the story of the deadly 1900 Galveston hurricane, Larson leaps into a dual tale set around the World's Columbian Exposition, semi-officially known as the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The event was to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. It did that and also highlighted America's second most populous city, filled with energy, smoke, architectural genius, and animal and sometime human slaughter. Architect Daniel H. Burnham faced a near impossible task: design and construct hundreds of buildings, some monumental in size and grandeur, in the face of an incredibly tight schedule. The author describes the challenges Burnham faced, but his greatest challenge and greatest achievement was the melding of the diverse cast of characters who created the Great White City, so-called because most of the fair's buildings were painted white. Seminal landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was on hand to complain and create; so were contentious union organizers and agitators, jealous colleagues, builders, and wheeler-dealers. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Herman Webster Mudgett, a.k.a. Henry H. Holmes, had built a bizarre structure aimed at trapping, exploiting, and killing young women. The story of the psychopath contrasts with Burnham's, though sometimes the analogies seem strained or absent. Reader Scott Brick has a young and mildly expressive voice; what is lacking is dialog-even invented (educated, of course) dialog would have added an element of interest and suspense. Still, the tale is finely crafted and deeply researched. An excellent selection for both American history and true crime collections.-Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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