Saturday, November 1, 2014

DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY

I heard Erik Larson speak years ago (2003? 2004?) when one of his books had just come out, and his talk stuck with me. I'd never heard of a book like his, and I was blown away by the amount of research he'd done. The book: THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: MURDER, MAGIC, AND MADNESS AT THE FAIR THAT CHANGED AMERICA.


Larson focuses his story on the main architect of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the serial killer who capitalized on the crowds brought by the fair. Creepy premise, right? Here's where you need to hang on to your corsets: the story is nonfiction!

My daughter, a college student, has always loved nonfiction, and I told her about DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY last year, before I'd even read it--as I said, Erik Larson's talk stuck with me. She read the book and told me I had to read it.

I'm so glad I did!

The 1893 World's Fair comes to life in Larson's book. His meticulous research tells of late 19th century Chicago, bringing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the time to the page. He captures the people of the era--their hopes, fears, concerns, and realities--zooming in on two unique men whose lives unexpectedly intertwine. Larson weaves all of his facts into a beautifully crafted story. It might be described as "real history meets CSI," and it's fascinating.

I finished reading the book in early September, but I keep thinking about it. Much like Larson's talk, his book seems to be sticking with me.

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More about DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY:

The book won an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, and it was a National Book Award Finalist. Leonardo DiCaprio acquired the rights to turn the story into a feature film, and he plans to play Dr. H. H. Holmes, the serial killer.

"A wonderfully unexpected book... Larson is a historian... with a novelist's soul."
--Chicago Sun-Times Review

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Have you read any outstanding books lately, specifically something outside the genre in which you write?

22 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

He must be an impressive speaker to stick with you all that time! And the book sounds fabulous too - hope they caught the guy :)
I'm not even sure I have a reading genre - I read so many it's hard to tell! :)

Dawn Simon said...

Jemi, LOL! I updated the post, hoping the new wording is clearer. A lot of what I read is middle-grade and young-adult fiction--often with an element of fantasy. That's also usually what I write. Of course I read across genres and age groups, and I think it can be fun to spotlight gems outside of our regular genres.

Erik Larson was impressive. He was dedicated to gathering facts, which is so important in nonfiction.

Stephanie Faris said...

Wow. This sounds interesting! We were just talking about that at lunch Friday. My mom said she'd seen some kind of TV special on it. I'll have to ask her more about it.

Dawn Simon said...

Stephanie, it's super interesting! The book also talks about inventions and inspirations that were seeded in that time period. Really cool!

sage said...

Wonderful writing and a disturbing subject. I read the book a decade or so ago and many parts of it still lingers.

Julie Dao said...

I borrowed this book from my brother for a work trip to D.C., and I remember turning down a dinner with some fellow conference attendees just so I could finish it. It was absolutely gripping! I saw that he came out with another book, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet!

Dawn Simon said...

Sage, serial killers are beyond disturbing, and the writing is wonderful, I agree. Larson shows us one man who spends his time trying to create beauty and another who destroys without remorse. The story is one I won't forget, and I get reminded of it when I see inventions or products from the time. I think the person who comes to my mind the most now is the landscape architect. Fascinating guy.

Hi, Julie! I get it! DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is definitely gripping! Erik Larson has quite a few books. I'd like to read more of his work as well.

New Release Books said...

Sounds a great speaker. And the book looks interesting.

Medeia Sharif said...

Wow, wow, wow. I want to read this. I'll add it on Goodreads as a reminder to myself.

Crystal Collier said...

Wow. I love it when a book sticks with you. And when it's non-fiction like that? Wow.

Unleashing the Dreamworld

Dawn Simon said...

NRB, he's a super interesting guy and a great writer.

Holy smokes, I found a book Medeia hasn't read! (Just teasing, Medeia, since you read more than anyone I know! You always impress me with that!) I think you'll find it fascinating!

Crystal, I love that, too!

Theresa Milstein said...

We have this book. I bought it for my husband and he enjoyed it. After reading this, I should pick it up.

David P. King said...

That sounds like a great read, and I'm looking for resources that depict that time period. Your post is timely, Dawn. :)

Lynda R Young said...

Now there's a book I'm going to have to read. Sounds fascinating.

Dawn Simon said...

Theresa, that's handy! Enjoy!

David, I'm glad. Good luck with your research!

Lynda, it really is fascinating!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I totally need to read that one! I'm going to B & N tomorrow. Hope I can find it.

Dawn Simon said...

Sharon, I hope you find it! Also, I like your new profile pic! :)

Caryn Caldwell said...

This is not my typical book, but I read it with my high-schoolers when they selected it as their book club pick, and I was so glad I read it! Absolutely fascinating, and it really brought that part of history to life in a way that's never left me since -- and it's been years!

Dawn Simon said...

Caryn, it's interesting that it has stuck with you, too, and for so many years. It says so much about a book when it stands out and gets remembered. And reading it with high school students! Wow!

Stasia said...

Maybe it's not just NaNo but nonfiction November, too. I'm currently reading and enjoying CITIZENS OF LONDON. DEVIL... is also on my tbr pile (my father recommended it) and now I'm moving it to the top!

Dawn Simon said...

Hi, Stasia! Nonfiction November--love it! CITIZENS OF LONDON sounds interesting, too. I haven't yet read Larson's IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, but I definitely plan to in the future! My daughter already bought it.

Congratulations to you! I was excited to hear THE SOUND OF LETTING GO made the short list for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association 2015 Book Awards! Go, Stasia!

Dawn Simon said...

P.S. - Stasia, since you're currently reading CITIZENS OF LONDON... Go look up IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS!