The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America - Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. This book intertwines the story of the 1898 Worlds fair in Chicago and that of a serial killer, H. H. Holmes, that used the fair as a lure for young women into his apartment for rent. At first glance, one may question the 'sensationaliztion' of the Worlds Fair with some lurid murder, but initial judgement can be wrong. Mr Larson does a masterful job jumping back and forth between the stories. We learn about Daniel Burnham, the architect of the Worlds Fair and his struggles in bringing the fair to life. The many 'first' that was debuted there and a good slice of cultural history of America at the turn of the century (BTW, does that still mean 19th-20th, now that we are 2nd decade into the 21st?) are documented here. While fascinating by itself, the story of Holmes not only adds tension to the story, it actually does a good job taking us into how young women's accepted role in society was changing at the time.  As his boarding house for young women would not have been possible without this attitude adjusment. If you just wanted to true crime story though, skip it, this is not your book. As a slice of insight into American life and changing values in the late 1800's, it is a fascinating read.


Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation - Joseph J. Ellis

Joseph Ellis, is one of the foremost scholars on the American Revolutionary period, and in this book, he chooses to examine the lives of several 'brothers' and the events that were taking place during the American Revolution and the decades immediately afterwards. Ellis chose not to use the more common 'Founding Fathers' to emphasize that this group of men were indeed bonded together through events and at the same time individuals with differing opinions. So we not only learn what happened in the macro sense, but also we get to understand each man  and how their personal views shaped American Independence. Perhaps even more importantly, the continued struggle to determine exactly what type of Republic the United States would become. The original Articles of Confederation were inadequate, eventually requiring a new Constitution with a much stronger central government was formed. However, to get to that point, there were many points of compromise by both sides, including such contentious decisions as not abolishing Slavery. These decisions would shape future history and continue to shape the lives of each American. Ellis not only drives these points home, he does so eloquently and I venture to say he is one of best writers of history in English currently. Even if you only had a cursory interest in this period, or perhaps trying to understand the United States constant push/pull between federal and states rights, you need to read this book. For such a small volume, its says much and says it well.