24 Following


I like big books.

The Devil In The White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America - Erik Larson Well. On the plus side, this book is very, very readable. Larson does have a bit of a flair for the dramatic in his descriptions, but who thought the construction of a World's Fair could be made so interesting? His descriptions of the murders, disappearances, calamities, economics and politics of the time fit in nicely with the narrative and are not too distracting from the overall patchwork of life in Chicago at the turn-of-the-century that Larson constructs.

A MAJOR flaw is that Larson invents half the history he records in his book. While the book is well researched (his footnotes are extensive), there are bits of his narrative that he simply could not know. He frequently inserts frames-of-mind, attitudes, thoughts, in the people he describes without reference to a journal or diary, simply on assumption. In fact, upon closer inspection of his notes, he flat-out says, "I base many of my assumptions about Holmes's mind-set on modern profiles of similar serial killers created by the FBI and psychologists..." I find it disingenuous that I had to search the footnotes for such a major disclaimer. There is no preface to such statements in text, such as "Holmes probably felt..." or "We can assume that..." He simply states it as fact. It makes for good reading, but poor history.

These errors occur only in his description of feelings and attitudes of the people involved in his narrative. The rest of the work is very well researched and documented. Larson calculates amounts of steel, attendance records, and time-frames with great detail and to great effect.

Worthwhile as a work of casual history with some disclaimers.