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Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson

I thought this to be a very impressive book. I'm in awe that Chicago was able to pull this tremendous project off in as short a time as they had and with so many disasters along the way. Just over 20 years since the great fire started by Miss O'Leary's cow leveled most the city, Chicago was rebuilt and ready to take on the task of building a world's fair. Remarkable. The descriptions of the conditions in Chicago during the 1890's made me shudder and thank the powers that be that I'm living in a more refined era.

I especially liked reading about the famous architects at the time who were involved with building the great Columbian Exposition of 1893. I developed a bit of hero worship for Danial Burnham and added a bit more to Fredrick Olmstead. I found myself wishing while in Chicago and back home that there would have been more buildings saved from a later fire. I wish we had taken more time to go in some of the buildings that survived. I wish I would have known that the rookery was still standing and that we had gone inside it.

Of course, I gluttoned myself with notes on the new inventions and first time appearances of certian items, such as Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jacks, , Aunt Jemima's pancake mix in a box, Juicy Fruit gum, the first motion pictures, a dishwasher, electric lights, the Kodak camera that took what became known as snapshots and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. The Pledge of Alligiance came about as a nation-wide way of honoring the fair. Let's don't forget the first ferris wheel.

Intertwined with this interesting, compelling story of the Exposition was the story of a man who used the situation of a bustling town that was focused on a big, important goal that required so much of the cities resources with a time in history when young woman were feeling freer about moving around unchaperoned. Enter the devil! Dr. Holmes was an enigmatic, plotting and sick socio-pathe who could charm women out of their lifes. His is a story of easy opportunity to feed his sickness and to go undetected for a long period of time.

I started reading this book in June the week before our vacation with hopes of finishing before we left. That's not how it happened. That last week was hectic and there was little time for reading. So I renewed the book for the library with every intention of calling in and renewing it every 2 weeks from wherever we were. I found our days filled to the brim so that I was reading 4-5 pages a day. The book was too heavy to carry around in my tote, so I traded for a smaller paperback 'Shadow on the Rocks' to carry around with me and put Devil in the White City on temp duty in the back of the car. When we arrived home, the basement was being torn apart, we had to find places for the furniture being stored in our living room and dining room. We had to dig up the sewer and repair it. In case you hadn't heard, our basement sewer backed up while we were on vacation. Family moved all the furniture and boxes of stuff to the carport and upstairs rooms. We were ready to start fixing up (Candleman wants to do it himself, I want to hire it done so it is over sooner). My knight in shining armor, Candleman, has been sick with a flu bug for 5 days and nothing is happening. I did paint the back door and door frame and rehang the door. With all that and school starting and trying to keep the kitchen workable, I'd about decided not to finish Devil in the White City.

Enter the RIP Challenge and the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I switched on of my choices for the NFF and added Devil AND I added Devil to the RIP. Double impetus to finish the last 300 pages. It worked. I finished it tonight! (6 renewals at the library and the book is still several days over due - but it goes back tomorrow.)

Anyone living in or near Chicago should definitely read this book. Those planning to visit should read and take notes so you can be sure to visit buildings that were in Chicago in 1893. All the rest of the country, at least, should read it. I am already planning a trip back to see a bit more of what I missed the first time. It will probably take many to satisfy that tickle I feel to know Chicago better. I was so surprised at the love I feel for Chicago in such a short visit. I attribute much of that to the trends set by Burnham and other builders - the magnificent mile and the public beachfront. Chicago has become one of my favorite big cities. The other is Quebec City.

20 comments:

sheri said...

i also really enjoyed this book, i thought the writing was good, and the subject very interesting. i was living just outside of chicago at the time i read it and loved being able to drive downtown and visualize how it all began and see what still stands from this miraculous project

Kailana said...

I think I should read this, it sounds interesting! And, it is not a subject I know very much about. :)

jenclair said...

One down on the R.I.P, and it is only the beginning of September! You go, girl! I've got one down on this challenge, too, and feel motivated to get many more than the required four read before the end of the challenge.

My goodness, Cheya! I'm so impressed with all of your challenges as I look over your sidebar.

J.S. Peyton said...

I bookmooched this a while back and I was sooo happy when I got in the mail. Just yesterday, I picked it up, put a bookmark in it, and decided to start reading it. I've heard so many great things about this title that I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Wendy said...

Thank you for posting this review! This is the final book I need to read to complete the Non Fiction Five Challenge and I have been having trouble getting motivated to read it. Your review helped motivate me!

teabird said...

This book has been on my (towering) to-read list for ages - now it'll be much closer to the top! Thanks for the wonderful writeup.

raidergirl3 said...

I borrowed it from a student in June and had to have it done by grad, and I used it for the NFF too, but it would be perfect for the RIP. I too was amazed at all the inventions that came about from the fair. Impressive, and also how Larsen put it all together.
You reviewed it perfectly.

hellomelissa said...

oh, i LOVED this book! my mom loaned it to me a few years ago. completely engrossing, and very visual in the descriptions.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

This is on my wishlist; I have yet to hear anything negative about it.

Stephanie said...

You know, I can't believe I haven't read this book yet!! As close as I live to Chicago and LOVE the city, I just haven't picked it up. Guess I will have to now!!

Thanks for a great review!

Stephanie said...

You know, I can't believe I haven't read this book yet!! As close as I live to Chicago and LOVE the city, I just haven't picked it up. Guess I will have to now!!

Thanks for a great review!

SuziQoregon said...

I enjoyed this book and so did my husband. Just about the time I was getting tired of the building the fair stuff, he'd switch gears and shift to the Holmes story and vice-versa. I kept going online to look for more pictures of the exposition and buildings. I thought it was all quite interesting. I was surprised at the number of 'firsts' and 'introductions' connected with the fair.

heather (errantdreams) said...

Sounds like a nifty book, and I hope repairs to your home go well!

Les said...

I started this book a couple of years ago, but had to put it aside for real life issues. Never got back to it and I'm not sure I will. I associate the timing of the read with things I'd rather not dwell on, so there it sits, my place still marked with a bookmark. Having said that, my husband loved it!

Carrie K said...

This book has come on and off my reading radar and your review has made me want to read it after all.

Framed said...

I loved reading about the exposition and hated reading about the murders. But it was one of those can't-look-away hatreds. It really was a well-written book.

Lesley said...

Great review! I read this for the NFF challenge, too and really enjoyed it. I wish I'd known about all that rich history when I visited Chicago a few years ago.

Lotus Reads said...

What a wonderful review, booklogged! I travel to Chicago faithfully once every year or once every two years and have often wondered about the history of some of its buildings...thanks to you I now know what to read in preparation for my next trip. A truly wonderful review, thank you very much!

Gentle Reader said...

I enjoyed this book, too! A friend of mine who is an architect recommended it, and then showed me a bunch of photographs of the Worlds Fair in a book she had that really helped me to visualize the buildings in the book. It was helpful!

Greg said...
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