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2003-06-13 , ,

I just finished Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Fantastic read. It is ostensibly a history book but reads as if it were a novel. I have not picked up such well-written and entertaining history in a long time. Larson uses the 1893 Chicago World Fair- The Columbian Exposition- to intertwine the stories of the fair and and the people who built it with the prowling of a serial killer and set the whole in front of the murmuring, then shrieking, jostle of end of the Gilded Age. There is a risk, strictly speaking, of the author being a little elastic with the details and their sequence where it benefits the story. The worst offender in that regard is Gore Vidal, who does not purport to be a historian as he freely colors within the big outlines of the characters and events he has lifted, but Larson skirts that mess and the narratives hold together very well and move briskly while remaining accurate. I was amused to find in the end notes the author’s justification for recreating from news reports, trial records and various accounts his scenario of one of the murders- guilt over stringing together facts in a plausible way- when a lot of writers have held forth whole cloth fabrications as fact without a second thought. Great book. I read it everyday on the subway, during lunch and a few evenings. I can’t recommend it enough.

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