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Devils' Advocate

The news site of Hinsdale Central High School

Devils' Advocate

The news site of Hinsdale Central High School

Devils' Advocate

Book nook: ‘The Devil in the White City’


“The Devil in the White City”

By Erik Larson

Genre: Historical Nonfiction

Rating: 4.5/5 Devils

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Though I normally don’t go for nonfiction books, this book pleasantly surprised me. Definitely one of those “stay up way later than your bedtime tying to finish” ones.

“The Devil in the White City” takes the story of the 1893 World’s Fair and juxtaposes the “White City” of the World’s Fair with the “Black City” of Chicago beautifully. Even the cover shows this juxtaposition with the picture of the fair all lit up in white against the black night sky. Larson does this by combining the story of the architects of the World’s Fair with the story of the murderous psychopath Dr. Herman W. Mudgett (who went by the alias Holmes). This juxtaposition adds a really unique dimension to the story that makes the story feel more like a wonderful work of fiction rather than a historical account of the era. Yet, all the accounts are true. That makes the story that much more compelling.

On the “White City” side of the story, I really loved the amount of pride it gave me as a Chicagoan. Seeing the adversity that these architects overcame to build this amazing fair, challenging Chicago’s stereotype as an uncultured meatpacking district, I couldn’t help but think that’s my city. Also, seeing the amount of innovations that the fair brought about, not to mention the amount of famous people and distinctive Chicago landmarks that resulted, was cool. From the incandescent bulb to the Ferris Wheel, from Walt Disney’s father to Frank Lloyd Wright, from Michigan Avenue to the Museum of Science and Industry, the fair was an important turning point in the city’s history. Overall, it was neat seeing how this shaped Chicago, and how those remnants are still seen today.

On the “Black City” side of the story, it was really intriguing being taken through Holmes’ mind and plots. It reminds me of “In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote’s 1967 non-fiction account of the Clutter murders. Capote also brings the reader into the minds of the killers. I also think that it adds to the story because it gives the reader a break from the fair and all the historical facts of the time. It also adds a bit of mystery and suspense, which is always nice. Additionally, Larson talks about the problems in Chicago at the time, and how dirty and dangerous it was, which really contrasted with the fair, and gave a humanizing aspect to it.

My only complaint about the story is that because it is so long, and there are so many characters it does take some brainpower to keep track of everything. Neverless, I’d defiantly recommend this to anyone who likes Chicago or anyone who likes a little murder mystery or history in their books. Also, the beginning and ending of the story comes together really nicely.

This is book number six for the reading marathon!

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