The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is a nonfiction account of Chicago’s World Fair in 1893 that reads nothing like the average history book. Larson deftly weaves together the political maneuverings and back room agreements it took to get the fair off the ground with the technical details of constructing a temporary city and providing electricity to glow through the night at a time when electric light was more spectacle than it was commonplace. The birth and construction of the first Ferris Wheel, with refurbished railroad cars as passenger carriers, I found to be amazingly interesting.
The titular Devil is a monster of a human being – and one of America’s earliest known serial-type killers – who preyed on those who flocked to Chicago to witness the beauty and extravagance that the fair held in store. Women disappeared into his infamous “Murder House” and were never heard from again.
The author provides each element of this true account with the precise amount of attention, never lingering too long, while still providing details enough to satisfy the most curious of individuals. His cast of real-life characters are carefully drawn, and they command the reader’s attention through to the conclusion, serving to show just what humankind is capable of – bot the virtuous and depraved.