I finished The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson a couple of weeks ago (it’s been a busy reading summer), and, as always, comments:
- It’s non-fiction, balancing between the story of a serial killer who killed quite a few visitors to the 1893 World’s Fair and the development of the fair itself. I’m not sure that the connection is as obvious as Larson wants us to believe, but the advent of serial killers and urban spaces that feel lawless (Jack the Ripper does his business in 1888, the first serial killer to become highly sensationalized) are definitely a historical fact of the time.
- I had this recommended to me by several folks, both academic and not. It was a fascinating and quick read, and gave some interesting insights into Chicago and American politics at the turn of the last century.
- Larson notes how many people visiting Chicago simply disappeared, and his research feels solid if a bit anecdotal.
- I have found the fair fascinating since I read David Nye’s American Technological Sublime, and this sort of story that idealizes the architects and designers who made this event happen (‘they thought they could never pull it off!’ is about the least hyperbolic way to document Larson’s narrative) added some life to folks I had read about.
- That being said, Larson doesn’t spend much time worrying about the implications of the fair itself outside of its impact on Chicago and the perceptions of Chicago in the rest of the country. I get that, but the academic in me loved how Nye connected the Fair to the larger American cultural narrative about technological development.