Saturday, June 03, 2006

Current Book: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I've just started reading the Devil in the White City - what an amazing book!
It was given to me by a cousin a few months ago and I only recently unpacked it.

So far (first 30 pages) it's amazing. Initially I thought it was historical fiction, but the author made a point of warning a reader that it was a historical work. The style reminds me of The King, The Crook and the Gambler by Malcolm Balen, albeit even less academic in tone (i.e. even fewer footnotes).

The book describes Chicago in the 1890s, newly appointed the 2nd largest city in America -- a city eager to crown itself with a mantel of culture to complement it's many great commercial and architectural achievements.

It delves deeply into the Burnham and Root, the key architects of Chicago and the Columbian Exhibtion. The Exhibtion in fact becomes the heart of the book and symbolizes Chicago's effort to define and express itself to the rest of the world. In six short months 27 million people from all over the world visitied the Exhibition. It's a staggering number when we consider that America's population was approximately 60-80 million at that time!

As a foil to the great grasping attempts at art, beauty, engineering and excellence of Chicago's greater citizenry, the book also explores something march darker...the evil contrivances of a true confessed serial killer who had fed on the young innocent women moving from the countryside to the city.

I'm looking forward to moving deeper into the book. It's quite enthralling.

One question I do have, for I have spent many days in Chicago, but I have cannot recall seeing any buildings left over from the world's fair exhibition. They must be there, perhaps Dollarz and Sense will enlighten us and let us know which ones still exist. The book would feel much more concrete and less effervescent if I could see or visit what remains.

Have a wonderful weekend,


Britt said...

It is a great book, isn't it? Actually, the only building that survives is now the Museum of Science and Industry (in Hyde Park)-- it was the Fine Arts building at the Exposition.

Dude said...

Not much help here. I've only lived here about 3.5 years. As such, I'm only beginning to learn about Chicago and the local area.

Sounds like a good read and insightful. I should read that book.

makingourway said...


I really enjoy reading it. Will have to put it aside for a few days due to crunch time, but really enjoy it. It's quite well written and I can almost see some of the buildings - such as the Rookery.


I recommend reading the book. As Penny said, the Museum of Science and Industry was in the exhibition (I've been there it's very nice - have you seen the UBoat?).

I think there are some other parks on the south side that may also have parts from the exposition.

I would love to go on a "forgotten" chicago architecture tour. During one visit I went on the Architecture tour on the Chicago river. It was quite nice.