Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (2003) exceeded my highest expectations. Greeted with universal acclaim by critics and popular audiences alike, Erik Larson’s nonfiction narrative unfolds like a thriller set at Chicago’s huge World Fair (1893). Featured are a charming young serial killer (H. H. Holmes), a brilliant architect (Daniel Burnham), and a mentally ill newspaperman (Patrick Prendergast). Holmes was an amazingly manipulative psychopath who lured young women into a cavernous hotel later known as “Murder Castle,” with horrific consequences. Burnham was an energetic, overtaxed architect who led frantic efforts to design and build the fair in time for its grand opening. Prendergast fantasized that Chicago’s leading mayoral candidate would appoint him to office after election day. Each of these threads meet by the narrative’s end. This is a masterly tale of entrepreneurship in business and crime. The story embodies the spirit of bloody, decadent fin-de-siecle Chicago.

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