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H. H. Holmes & the Columbian Exposition

H. H. Holmes & the Columbian Exposition

The Devil in the White City: Muder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

by Erik Larson

Vintage Books (2004)

A popular history book about "America's 1st serial killer" and Chicago's massive endeavor to create the Colombian Exposition

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." - Daniel H. Burnham, Director of Works for the World's Colombian Exposition, 1893
"I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murder, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing." - Dr. H. H. Holmes, Confession, 1896

Rencently, I was in the mood for some history and historical fiction books! After finishing my Master's thesis, I was not remotely interested in reading anything historical and instead binged on fantasy. Thanks to this short break from history books I decide to jump back into it with a popular history book. During graduate school I only read academic history book (i.e. those published by university presses) and I wanted to read a history book that was quite popular. So during one of my Thrift Book purchases I picked up a cheap copy of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City. It has been on my "to-be-read" list for quite a few years, however, I had never actually gotten around to reading it.

Overall, I enjoyed this popular history book! I liked the juxtaposition between H. H. Holmes and the Colombian Exposition creators. Despite enjoying the tantalizingly morbid details about Holmes and learning more about “The White City” I felt rather ‘meh’ about it. (Meh: shoulders shrugged, noncommittal facial expression, neither awful or amazing).

At times the short choppy chapters that jumped between historical figures was too much. I realize this was most likely meant to impart a quicker pace for the reader but it didn’t always appeal to me - just as I was getting invested in one part of the story it jumped to the other.

Additionally, the endnotes. Where is the effing endnote number?! I know not everyone likes Chicago Style and that it's used in more academic writing... But dude... don't make up you're own citation style. After every quotation I have to literally double check if I'm looking at the correct citation. Also, yes, I'm that kind of person that reads all the endnotes and back matter. Sorry for the historical methods rant, but it's a major pet peeve.

I would say if you have an interest in the topic, pick it up. However, if like me you're looking for a good pop history book I would suggest skipping it.

Happy Reading!


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Delightfully Macabre

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