Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

History and Mystery

Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson


The book is really about 70% history of the great Chicago Worlds' Fair and Exposition and 30% crime novel so if you're looking for the straight crime thrill, you'll probably be disappointed.  But, if you love history, this book is for you.  You'll like both parts.

This book marries the amazing Chicago Fair and Exposition of 1893 (dubbed the White City) and the tale of one of the most prolific serial killers in US history (Herman Webster Mudgett/H.H. Holmes). 

While I was completely amazed by the history of this book, I wished there had been more information about Holmes/Mudgett.  I am not a literary rubber-necker but his brief history did not satiate my curiosity about this little-known man.  In all, though, this was a fascinating book and completely captured the magic and hope of the time, a period of time when Chicago came into its own as a city. It's hard to imagine it was ever second-class.  Some other things hard to imagine?

So many momentous things came from the fair--it was the first time moving pictures were shown; Nikolas Tesla displayed his lightning coils; the first zipper was showcased; the first electric kitchen was debuted, with an automatic dishwasher; Aunt Jemima's Pancake mix was introduced as well as Shredded Wheat, Pabst 'Blue Ribbon' beer and the Dewey Decimal System.  What's more, Walt Disney's father helped to build the darn thing; L. Frank Baum visited; Columbus Day was instituted and AC current was used for the first time.  Can you imagine a world without any of those things?

The author is a true master of his work, weaving between the two story lines and showing how this serial killer could not have become the monster he was without the Chicago Exposition, a fair that showcased all of what was brilliant and evil about man.

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