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.