Chances are, you won’t find this book in an elementary school library. But like I said, I read adult books also. And this one is a doozy.
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Ever heard the expression, “truth is stranger than fiction”? Well, Eric Lawson’s Devil in the White City falls squarely into this category. The book is really two books in one. The “White City” refers to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Part of the story chronicles the renowned architects, landscapers, and engineers who created this beautiful, temporary world in just two years.
Lawson actually got me excited about architecture and construction! Want to be impressed with human ingenuity and vision? Just google images of this World’s Fair.
The other part of the book relates the life of H.H. Holmes, possibly the worst serial killer of all time, certainly of the 1800s. He confessed to 27 murders, mostly of young women. Some estimate the body count into the hundreds…Yikes!
So how do the two stories connect? Holmes attracted many of his victims with his “World’s Fair” hotel located near the White City.
He designed the hotel himself with secret compartments, rooms and even a kiln in the basement. Guests checked in, but some were never heard from again. I won’t go into the details of his acts, but suffice it to say he was very efficient. Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper, these are 19th century murderers who got some press. It’s a mystery to me why Holmes’ story did not spread and endure.
Lawson tells the two stories in alternating chapters. From the sublime to simply the slime, this book has it all. The talent and sheer will that went into the making of Chicago’s World Fair is mesmerizing. So too is the truly evil life of H.H. Holmes.
Bonus Bit: Does history repeat itself? Years ago, I read The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule’s biography of 1970s serial killer, Ted Bundy. Though decades separate the two men, there are eerie similarities. Both were smart, charming, and handsome. These traits gave them easy access to victims and kept average citizens and authorities clueless for years about the monster among them. Now that is truly chilling.
Question: Do you have any good nonfiction book recommendations?
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