What a compulsively readable nonfiction book on a topic that I would have never read without the hype.
Boring?: at times, but surprisingly not for most of it
The Devil in the White City is a book that is—exclusively and extensively—focused on one topic: The 1893 Chicago World's Fair. In particular, on two white men of relative means who represented two very different faces to Chicago. One face, wealthy architect Daniel H. Burnham, who was the driving force behind the fair's creation. The other face, blue-eyed middle class conman H.H. Holmes, one of America's most memorable and horrifying serial killers.
Gripping concept? YES.
One the one hand, we're following Chicago's brash attempt to beat all the global odds stacked against them and host an international World's Fair to rival the previous one in Paris...where they unveiled the architectural feat, The Eiffel Tower.
On the other hand, we're following the disturbing rise of H.H. Holmes and his aptly-described "demonic" concept for a murder hotel essentially across the street from the future site of the World's Fair. Holmes was a murdering soul at the start, but his luck at the fair led him to new heights of horror in a stunning twist of fate.
I found the detailed account of these two men and their stories to be extremely gripping. Considering this was nonfiction down to the dialogue used, I was amazed at how quickly I flew through this story. It's well researched and well told.
However... I wish this story had been more all-encompassing in its quest to tell the tale of the World's Fair. This is essentially the lens of one white man telling the two intersecting stories of two other white men...and in an uncomfortable way, it feels like it. I wanted to know more about the minority groups that were involved in the fair—especially the outdated and racist practices of the Midway, which was essentially a "zoo" of international races and cultures—and their struggles. I also wanted to know more about the women involved as opposed to the borderline footnotes that existed in the story—one woman was chosen to design one of the buildings at the fair! And yet she is barely discussed...even though her plot line is clearly an interesting story of the glass ceiling at work. And, taking out both the minority groups and the women, we did not fully dive into the class inequalities at play either. The labor unions were discussed at length (mainly as irritants to Burnham) but the stories of the poor themselves were not handled as fully as I was expecting.
So, overall, a good book. I just wish there had been more of a balanced lens, even though I understand the argument that there is only so much room in a book and it's impossible to cover it all.