The Devil in the White City - Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (#672) caught my eye on a display in my local library as a "Staff Pick". I've learned quite a bit of interesting history from reading Erik Larson's previous books, but somehow, I've never gotten around to reading this one.
The Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a tremendous undertaking, and so clean and visually stunning that Chicagoans dubbed it "The White City" in contrast to the dirty, polluted and crime-ridden streets of the metropolis itself. With the throngs of construction workers, laborers and fair employees attracted to the Exposition, as well as the visitors come from all over the world to experience its marvels, it is no wonder that no one noticed for a long time that many of those who went to the Columbian Exposition never returned home - most of them attractive young ladies. Juxtaposing the story of how the Exposition came to be with the career of a serial killer known best by his favorite alias, Dr. H.H. Holmes who used the crowded conditions of Chicago to his advantage makes for an interesting and macabre parallel tale.
In every chapter, facts, figures and famous people appear. I had no idea that so many things that we take for granted in modern life had their debuts in Chicago, nor that so many engineering problems were solved in ironing out construction issues at the fair. However, it was somewhat lowering to find that one of America's most lethal serial killers hailed originally from New Hampshire, but comforting to discover that he was finally unmasked by good old-fashioned, dogged detective work with nary a computer in sight!
My only regret is that I did not read this book before my recent visit to Chicago. I would have looked at the city differently, but that's certainly a good motivation to pay the Windy City a return visit.