As is the case with a lot of other books, I found many good and bad aspects of the book. I found the parts about Dr. H.H. Holmes to be very interesting. That story was full of suspense and excitement which kept me excited to read the book. However, I found the story about Burnham and the construction of the fair to be less than entertaining. I feel like that part wouldn't have been so boring if it wouldn't have been put together with a story of a serial killer. The suspense of Holmes' made the story of the construction of the fair dull. However, I must say I really enjoyed Burnham's character. He was a man who kept working even when things seemed impossible. He kept a positive outlook at the worst of times. I can't say I cared for Holmes's character. It's strange to think how easily he committed the murders, particularly of the children. That part of the story seemed most exciting in part 4. I really enjoy reading about the detective work of crimes. I believe I would have liked this book more if it was two separate stories in different books. The combination of the two didn't seem to flow well, they barely lapped over one another.
Jon -- I liked how you could separate your interest (lack thereof) in the fair construction portion of the novel from the character of Burnham. Good work!
I have to say that I am absolutely loving all the books we are reading this year, I have really liked all of them! If I had to rank the books we read this year, I would say that Devil in the White City came second right after Great Gatsby. I definitely wasn't excepting to enjoy this book as much as I did. I was really amazed at how detailed Larson's writing was; I can't even imagine how long it took to write this book. Even though it is nonfiction, it reads just like a fiction book would. I really enjoyed Larson's writing style too. Even though I enjoyed the Holmes's parts of the novel a lot more, the architecture parts were still fascinating to read as well. Of the architecture parts, I enjoyed reading about the Ferris Wheel and the new inventions that came out of the fair. I never felt that there were dull spots in the books, there was always something interesting going on, which I really liked. I do wish that the architecture and the murder parts were more evenly distributed throughout, but otherwise, I enjoyed everything else. I definitely like part 4 and the epilogue the best of all the sections. As for the characters, I really liked the contrast of Burnham and Holmes. I thought putting their stories together made the book a really good way to showcase the time period. I really liked how different and dynamic all of the characters were as well. Overall I really enjoyed the book, it definitely wouldn't have been something I would have known to read otherwise!
I really did enjoy the story of Dr. H.H. Holmes. I have watched the criminal shows on T.V. and this was just like that. We were walked through Holmes view of events and his life, and then the detectives tracking his movements trying to prove him guilty after he was captured. This story was very suspenseful and kept me pushing through the more dull story of Burnhams so I could get back to Holmes. I found Burnhams story slightly interesting, however it was incredibly dull. I did enjoy learning many things about the process in which the architecture was developed, and the great setbacks they had to overcome. The author almost went into too much detail trying to describe every single little thing that was going on throughout the fair. The dozens of people mentioned that were helping construct the fair were almost impossible to keep straight. While Holmes story was quite straightforward. He killed many women, and if you didn't hear from one for awhile, they were dead. He had only a few associates, and only Benjamin Pitezel really played a large part. I agree with Jon that these two stories really didn't overlap enough to put them in the same book. I get the irony that Holmes turned the white city into the black city through his murders, and used the fair to draw in victims, however the two stories really didn't affect each other directly. I would have also preferred to have them separate stories, as it would have been easier to keep them straight.
Yes, crime stories just seem to spark some interest in all of us, like some morbid fascination. The earliest part of the Burnham plot was laden with characters, I would most definitely agree.
I found the book interesting at some points and quite boring in others. For instance, the parts about Holmes were quite interesting; hearing his thoughts and how a real cereal killer works was very intriguing and made me want to keep reading. But as for the worlds fair and other aspects of the novel, I felt they just drug on, I had a hard time getting through those parts and found myself skimming. To me they didn't have a point and seemed more like fillers than anything. It was also hard to keep up with Holmes' killing spree. I couldn't keep everyone straight, whether they were dead or just out of the picture was quite confusing. However I liked the contrast between Burnham and Holmes, it was very interesting how Larson put their stories together. Larson's style of writing was also nice. His theme of imaginary vs reality was a good touch in this piece. But over all I didn't really like the book and wouldn't recommend it.
I was really excited to start reading this book, thinking that it would be really interesting to read how one man could get away with so much. I wasn't too excited about the fair part because I'm not really into the whole architecture thing, but I thought it woule be better than what it was. I started reading and I really liked the Holmes story but when I got to the fair story I found myself losing interest quickly. One reason I lost interest was because of all the characters that kept popping up in the fair parts. There were too many to keep track of and I thought that became very distracting. The Holmes part was just intriguing because it's crazy and really sad to think that so many people suffered because of this one horrible human being. In the last part of the book I couldn't put it down because I wanted to know what happened to the Pitezel children. Again, this part was only about Holmes which is why I liked it. I agree with Jon, the two stories should have been told separately because they weren't very cohesive together.
I generally am not excited when we read books in school but i was interested in reading this book. It wasn't anything that i expected it to be. It was really interesting in the beginning as a whole. Towards the middle i thought that it was a little windy when it came down to the fair and architecture part of the story. I lost interest pretty quickly when the fair was described or the process of building the fair. But then when it was the H.H. Holmes part of the story i loved it all the way through. I particularly like the fourth section. In part because it was shorter but also because it was interesting. The process of retracing Holmes' footsteps and learning more about him was interesting. It also kept the reader guessing as to what was going to happen. I mean obviously we all knew Holmes was guilty but it was interesting to wonder whether or not he was going to admit to everything and also interesting to just understand more about why Holmes did what he did. Overall the book was fairly interesting. It was on of the more likeable books that i"ve read for class.
While I was reading the book, I couldn’t wait to read the next part about Holmes. It seemed like it was so captivating, and suspenseful. I really love reading murder mysteries, and I watch way too many crime scene shows. That’s why I loved the parts about Holmes so much. What I didn’t like about it was how little those parts seemed to show up. There was A LOT of architecture going on in the book. Obviously, it was about the world fair. The parts about Burnham weren’t all that exciting to me. It was very predictable, and kind of stressful to read. It stressed me to think that they opened without anything done, and when building would crash down, or things would break it irritated me. The parts with Burnham just seemed to be a bit dry, but I don’t find architecture to be that interesting. I think parts one and four were the most interesting to me. It held the most Holmes material, and there was a lot of plot to build. Part three was the hardest to get through; it was a ton of Burnham, to a pinch of Holmes. But as a whole, it was one of the better books I’ve read in school. I’m never too fond of the choices in class, but because of Holmes, it made reading for homework okay! I didn’t like the end, because I was really hoping that the two stories would twist together. Maybe Holmes would meet Burnham, or something of the sort would’ve happened. I agree with the couple people above that said the stories should’ve really been told separately. The endings didn’t really match up, or intertwine and I was a bit disappointed.
Yes! You are an empath....Larsen did do an effective job of creating anxiety--whether it centered on World Fair projects or the preservation of human life!
When I first started reading I thought its was going to bo some boring factual book that i wasnt going to enjoy at all. While reading and after finishing I'm happy to ba able to say for the most part I really enjoyed the book. First off I really liked how it was written. I think that if it would have been just a book on Burnham it would have been alot harder to finish because there wasnt a whle lot of action in that section. There was no doubt that it was fasinating to see how he pulled it off but had it been on its own I feel it could have gotten boring. On the other hand, while the Holmes story had a bit more draw, I think that if it had been a book just on Holmes it also could have gotten repetitive. Together there was an equal amount of excitment and history. With that being said there were also time the story got a little descriptive and sluggish. All in all the plot kept me interested because it all was interesting. I like that it was very factual so I was learning about something really incredible but it didnt feel like I was reading out of a history textbook becasue it did have a story line. Then there are the characters, and there were alot of them. Even though there were quite a few stories to follow and sometimes hard to keep track of, I think it was necessary to show all the people who had major contributions to the fair and the Holmes story.
Alyssa -- I like how you addressed your first impressions about the book and how those changed!
Overall, I liked this book. Generally, I prefer fiction to nonfiction, but the way this book was written made it a very enjoyable read. The plot line was also pretty engaging (and I’m not talking about the construction of the World Fair).Due to the book’s novel structure, it was easy to take in a lot of historical facts displayed in the story. Because of this, I was able to make connections to other pieces this year (including Great Gatsby, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and chapters in my history book). In terms of balance between the two stories, I thought the beginning and the end did a fair job. However, towards the middle the architecture plot got a little tedious, as I was used to switching between the stories after every chapter. While individual story lines regarding the architects remained interesting, it was a little hard to engage reading three or four chapters at a time of problems with soggy soil and anxious architects. In regards to the characters, I found them pretty hard to follow at times. Because so many names were mentioned, it was hard to pick out who would be important later; it seemed like there we a lot of unnecessary additions. Sometimes a character would be introduced, then after a break would make a second appearance. It would have been nice if the characters would have had a brief, second introduction. (I know we were supposed to write them down, but I would occasionally miss names, especially during the architecture story line.)In conclusion, I enjoyed reading this book and I hope it’s continued to be offered in the coming years!
happy to hear you enjoyed it! The character issue is definitely tied to the fact that this is nonfiction and there were many people involved in these historic events.
I really did enjoy The Devil in the White City. It was one of my favorite literary pieces of the year. The story seemed as interesting as a typical work of fiction even though it was a true story. It shocks me that I've never learned anything about this part of American history. Burnham's story is somewhat tedious to read about but I actually do love his character. He works so hard to get everything done perfectly. Holmes is the same way. The comparisons between them is astonishing and that's why I believe the story flowed so well. I thought that it was written wonderfully. The Burnham parts were a lot less action packed but they served their purpose in the novel too. The Holmes story did draw my attention better though. I also really liked the imagery that the description of the architecture created. I want to be an architect or something along those lines when I get older. It was very interesting to read about such a monumental moment in Chicago and U.S. history. The 1893 World's Fair didn't just wow millions, it was a defining moment in U.S. history. The writing style of the story did kind of lose me at times though. I often found myself rereading certain parts of the book because the syntax had lost me. I didn't like that very much but I did really like the book.
I was really enjoyed reading this book, but i was fairly disappointed that holmes and burnhsm never really wove together. Granted, had erik larson written that they met he would have been altering history. This book was intended to be non fiction so i see how that was out of the picture. I was really interested in all of the Holmes stuff that happened, but i could not get myself to be interested in the architecture. I literally fell asleep everytime i tried read it. But i guess theres no way he really could have made that interesting. Characters have always been a struggle for me, but this book was just ridiculous. I could re write the entire plot of any book i've ever read, but i could not for the life of me tell you the names of the main characters. So his book with all of the names was really confusing. The character quizzes sucked. However, all in all i think it was an alright book and should be kept in the curiculum, but those character quizzes should be shredded forever.
Overall I loved Devil in the White City. The two plot lines made the book more interesting, but sometimes caused confusion. It got confusing when the smaller chapters would randomly appear and it would seem like it could fit into either storyline - like the Prendergast sections. Up until the final part of book, those chapters seemed very random and could tie into the either the Holmes or the Exposition storyline. Like Mimi, I was also able to make connections. The timing of our reading of the book was just right, in my opinion, because the connections made were able to give me a better grasp of what was going on. I know that Larson wrote this book as a nonfiction, but I kept forgetting that as I read. To me, the book had a fictional feel to it, especially when dealing with reactions and details. It was in part of the fictional feel that I was able to enjoy Larson's style of writing and focus on the plot. While reading this book, I greatly found interest in the architectural plot dealing with Burnham and Olmsted. Up until year I hadn't heard either of their names but they became intriguing - partially because I am considering architecture as a possible career choice. The book also opened up the field of landscape architecture which I rarely had previously heard about.
Michael, you have expressed an important point about writing style: good writing is good writing regardless of genre (fiction/nonfiction). Larsen is an adept storyteller.
I do love this novel. I would have to say that out of all the novels we have read thus far it is my favorite. It is my favorite because I liked the plot lines and the style of this book. Also it definitely helps that all of the positives weigh out all negatives. I have noticed that in a lot of other students’ comments they disliked the architecture part; but personally, I really enjoyed it. Granted some of my negatives rooted from the architecture sections all-in-all I was intrigued. What were intriguing were the aspects of construction and all the work and committees that go into fair building. It was like taking a look through a window that I have never seen. The only construction I’ve been around was when we built our house in fifth grade and at that time I was too cool to pay attention to all the planning. Anyhow one of the downsides to the novel was how the architecture dragged. Oh man, sometimes the details were just over the top. I wanted to yell at the people in the book and just say, “GET THE FAIR DONE YOU NINCOMPOOPS.” So then I would proceed to read and hope that they get the fair done and on opening day it isn’t even complete. What a letdown! And I know, Erik Larson can’t take a liberty in that part but it makes me sad, that they couldn’t get it done and they dragged on forever. On the bright side though there was another thing I really liked. I liked how many times the book was able to make me laugh. I always look for good humor in everything so it was just a plus that this book was funny. Lines like “...which hissed like mildly perturbed cats.” just make me giggle and that’s a really attractive quality for a book and people. Definitely a book worth reading.
Katie, I am pleased with the way you engaged in the reading. Good literature has the potential to do that--to grab us and twist our emotions and make us think about life and hopefully laugh along the way.
I was very excited to start a book about serial killing because I have never read a book that dealt with that situation before. I was intrigued with how our times have changed. He killed so many people and got away with it, and now days, the serial killers are stopped a lot sooner than they were in the early 1900s. The parts about the serial killing were very interesting, but I really didn’t like reading about the fair. Talking about every single detail about the fair, it made the reading very long. I often times would forget what I would be reading about when they would talk about the fair. There were also a lot of characters that were part of the fair and Holmes’s victims. Because there were so many characters, I often mixed them up with each other and questioned what their impact would have been in the book. I feel that if the book would have been just about the fair, it would have been even harder to finish and keep interest in. With Holmes’s story put into the mix, it made it even more interesting. Holmes’s part of the story made the readers really sad about how inhumane he was being to his victims. The last part was the most intriguing part of the book because it made me want to know what happened to Pitezel’s children and the reason I think it was so interesting was because it was in Holmes story.
Overall, I was just kind of okay with this book. Nothing about it was all too spectacular. Yes, I found the Holmes story arch interesting but it didn't compensate for the lack of intrigue I felt for the Burnham story. When I was on parts of the book dealing with the fair, I found myself waiting for a break. Waiting for the story to branch off into the Holmes area since I found that part much easier to read, let alone read enjoyably. Don't get me wrong, I find architecture interesting as I love art in any form, yet to read about how the builders couldn't make up their minds and how happenings hindered their progress over and over just didn't allow me to get into that side of the book. I am glad that the book was split up like it was. Knowing I had those "breaks" from buildings to look forward to was a welcome relief. Furthermore, I found that the Holmes story seemed much less of a textbook in comparison to the Burnham one. Larson most likely had more opportunities to add emotion to the arch with the murderer than the arch with the architect.
When I was first given this book I was rather excited to start reading it; however my opinion of the book soon changed after reading the first few chapters. I loved everything about the Holmes sections of the book. He as a person baffled me. I found myself in anticipation waiting for a part about him to come up. At times he discussed me and at others I found myself seeing who he really is under all his sin. To tell you the truth Dr. H.H. Holmes is what made this book great for me. His parts of the book I enjoyed so much that once I was reading a section about him I forgot about how painful Burnham’s parts were. Now I’m not saying that Burnham as a person was boring, just what he did. I believe if Larson started the book how he started the fourth section with Holmes in custody and then back flashed from there; then Larson could have taken out Burnham’s parts and perhaps followed more of Detective Frank Geyer journey to convict Holmes. But that would have seemed like even more of a fictitious story then it already does. So I guess the book was written in the best way, because how can Larson tell the story of the Devil in the White City if he took out the parts about the White City?
You summed it up nicely in your last question :)
Like everyone else seems to be saying, I loved the Holmes part. It always kept my interest going and it was never to boring for me. I kept reading the Holmes part because I wanted to know more and more. On the other hand, I had to push myself to read through the fair part. I really could not get excited about that at all no matter how hard I tried. If the whole book was about Holmes I probably would have zoomed through it. One thing that was a little tricky was keeping up with all of the characters throughout the novel, but they were all necessary because of all the murders and people building the fair. I enjoy hearing the thoughts of Holmes and trying to understand why he was killing so many people. But it's also scary how much he got away with for so long. To me it weird thinking that both of these plots were going on at the same time because they are so different and it really makes you think about what could possibly be going while you are doing everyday things.
Yes like most people, the story about the fair got old really fast. I feel like there are only so many times something can go wrong before it's like, "Really? Oh come on let them have their stupid fair and get it over with!" In the beginning, yes, I sympathized with Burnham and his fellow architects. But after a while the mishaps they ran into went from being unfortunate to being expected. The Holmes plot even ran dry after a while. Again, there's only so many times you can read about a man murdering somebody before it's like, "Wow he killed her I had no idea that was going to happen." I disliked the predictability of the novel, especially that the predictability set it quite early in the novel. I also disliked the lack of a strong female character. Every woman that walked into either of the plot lines was either crazy or weak and an eventual murder victim. It doesn't portray women fairly and it was a bit frustrating. One thing I did appreciate, however, were Larson's one-liners. There were a few sentences throughout the novel that just made your stomach drop, or made you smirk. For example, "'Howard,' she had written, 'is not with us now.'" Stomach dropped! There were a few other times I recall having my heartstrings tugged at, too. Overall I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it for fun on my own, so I could put it down when I wanted, rather than for school, where I had to reward myself with a brownie or a little break for completing particularly long, dry Burnham parts.
Not to be redundant, but I also was very excited to read The Devil in the White City when I first heard the plot line. It sounded suspenseful, intriguing, and quite honestly I was just curious as to learning about H.H. Holmes’s killing skills, because he really got away with a lot! The beginning of the book however, dragged, for H.H. Holmes’s plot was short and the architecture plots were long and seemingly linear for a time being. As the architecture plot grew, there seemed to be new characters every page and they were hard to keep track of. However the general plot pertaining growth of the fair was a bit easier to follow as it moved quite slowly. Holmes’s plot grew steadily; in part four it was the most exciting because detective Geyer was uncovering the death of the Pietzel girls, shedding light on Holmes’s smart yet sick mind for murder. I thought the meshing of the two plots was interesting because not only did it showcase the contrast of Chicago during the time period, it made the murder half of the story more believable. Had the novel been just about Holmes, I would have constantly wondered how one could simply get away with so much murder and fraud. But with the fair plot, it was easy to see how it went down.
ok, so I already answered the other question, but I wanted to comment on all the previous comments as a whole. So, I understand that almost everyone found the Holmes part way more interesting, I totally get it, nothing wrong with it. But I personally only wanted those parts to be over. I think that my experience with crime shows is what drove me away from it. I did NOT want to read about any more deaths. I thought part 3 was the best and loved to see how all the buildings finally got built and to see the cities reaction to everything. I didn't mind the lack of Holmes one bit.
My impression of the book was that it was just mediocre. I think one aspect that lowered the ranking for me was the length. Larson goes into extreme detail about things that are not even pertinent and that seem like a waste of time to be dwelling on. The architecture part was generally a snooze fest, except the Ferris wheel and the lovely old cranky man that is Olmstead. I think it would've been a lot better without all the extra fluff. I did, however, like most of my classmates, very much enjoy the parts about Holmes and Prendergast. Seeing him form plans and manipulate people was interesting. Part 4 was my favorite, because in contrast to the rest of the novel, it was fast paced and suspenseful. I agree with Christine in that I wish the two stories would've intertwined in some unique way; I was kind of disappointed that they stayed separate except for the common aspect of the fair. One thing that I didn't understand and that Vanessa and I discussed was how this book can be classified as nonfiction when Larson says things like "He smirked as he walked away." (Not actual quote- just example). Like how does Erik Larson know that he smirked? He obviously wasn't there. It just seems peculiar to me. Kudos to him though, for organizing all of those references that nobody will take the time to flip through. All in all, it wasn't terrible, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you like being bored in a book until the very end. I am not a fan of that whatsoever.
Like most things in our world, I suppose we have to regard the 'truth' other people print with some trust and some skepticism.
What I thought about...The book:I overall thought the book was okay. The story line was very good and had a lot of details, however I just became uninterested and fell asleep at some points. Now, this may be because I am not a huge non fiction fan, in fact, I strongly dislike non fiction mostly for the fact that it seems to uninterest me. In Devil I really like the Holmes part of the novel while at some point the architecture part god pretty old and boring with the repeated long descriptions and details on little decisions made about the fair. The Holmes part was the part of the novel I was most interested in, this is probably why I couldn't put the book down by the end, I just think that Holmes, his methods, and his mind are all very fascinating and in the end a mystery to be solved.The writing:Erik Larson, I believe, was a very good writer. He was able to take the wonder of the wold's fair and write a book that did the fair justice and put the reader right into the time period of the fair. It was like Larson wrote the novel to place the reader in the shoes of the architects, and the fair goers, so much so that it was similar to walking down the paths of the fair and riding the Ferris wheel to my hearts desire. The way Larson split the sections so that every other chapter was Holmes then the architects in the fair could be a bit confusing at times but also could hook the reader, I read the Holmes section then would suffer through some of the boring parts of the architecture scenes so I could read another Holmes section.The plot:To me, the plot was as interesting as could be, especially the ending. The story took me on a journey through the fair and through Holmes to where I was striving to get another taste of what was being built at the fair, or what poor woman was probably getting killed on Holmes' end of the story. The most important part however, was that the plot was all true. I would be reading and just stop and think "Holy crow this actually happened," and be amazed about how Chicago and Holmes could pull such a show off and make it a success.The characters:Basically the novel is all about Holmes murdering and Burnham building the world's fair. To me, the most interesting of the characters were the women killed by Holmes, Holmes' employees, and the visitors of the fair. These characters had the littlest of pieces but some of the most interesting of stories. My favorite character was Holmes, his side of the story always seemed to surprise me and cause me to ponder about what he could possibly be thinking at that particular moment. Mostly I disliked the book, but it was worth reading by a long shot because I learned a lot about the time period and the fair, but also the technology that was available during the time period.
I like how you organized your response because you could be very specific about the segmented parts of the book/writing/plot.
In my experience, every time I read a wonderful book it becomes my new favorite. And that is exactly what I can call The Devil in the White City; my favorite. I loved this book for many reasons, but firstly for its very distinguished dynamism. Larson is wonderful in maintaining so much energy throughout the novel that is so perfectly analogous to the actual liveliness of Chicago at the time of the World’s Fair. With his carefully sought out descriptions I was able to create and keep a vivid picture in the back of my mind, as he denoted the race for time in the construction of the Ferris Wheel, the tedious work being done to make it all a success, but also the morbid pleasure Holmes’ got from murdering innocent people. This engaged me as a reader. I found myself rooting for characters, and then when I realized these were real human beings who actually existed I felt a strange but warm sense of interconnectedness with people and problems I might have to face one day, too. Because Larson’s writing forced me to have an active imagination there never was a dull moment in the novel. He was also a genius in the extent of which he educated me. In fact, mostly for the way he was so shrewd in decorating such raw details; making them so mind numbingly fascinating. It’s exciting to learn new things, and I find it sad that I wouldn’t have known of such a tremendous feat in a city so close to me were it not for this book. I don’t understand why, because at the time of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago new things were emerging that are still prominent in today’s world, like the invention of the world’s first ferris wheel, the establishment of alternating current and the nation’s first public observance of the Pledge of Allegiance. So many times my jaw dropped because Larson’s very effective subtlety astonished me. The way he sowed knowledge so carefully into my mind delighted me! For example, when he tailored in the magic of Helen Keller embracing and kissing the inventor of the braille typewriter at the fair I basically swooned. The Devil in the White City was a book that tugged at my heartstrings one moment and left me all cold the next. Indeed, another reason I fell in love with this book is the feelings it was able to foster inside of me, especially for being a non-fiction novel. Following Holmes on his killing spree indicated to me that maybe the evil embedded in society is timeless, rather than growing exponentially as it so seems. What drew me so cold was the indifference he showed as the evidence was piling up and being exposed. He was so shameless, and it scares me that humans are capable of the fearlessness to commit such horrors and especially to retort in such an insouciant manner. In the end, Holmes’ savagery turned the bursting pride of Burnham’s strain to have Chicago finally prove itself rancid. In my eyes, the humiliation truly conveyed that the Dark City usurped the beautiful, glowing, White City.
Eleni, I appreciate the insight, emotional connection, and specific detail of your reflection. You have a way with words that is unique and poetic. I especially liked: distinguished dynamism & to retort in such an insouciant manner.
I really like this book but that may have something to do with me really liking history. Apparently in contrast to my classmates’ opinions, all of the details and facts that were thrown into the book were, to me, fascinating, and really gave me insight into this period in American history. I was struck by how many of the things we associate as being quintessentially “American” are tied to the 1893 world’s fair: the pledge of allegiance, ferris wheels, juicy fruit, Cracker Jack. It seems like the fair was an important event, not only for Chicago, but also for the shaping our own national identity. Apart from the history in it, I also enjoyed the style and themes of the book. It’s a real testament to Erik Larson’s writing that it felt suspenseful even though I already knew what was going to happen. I liked how Larson used the juxtaposition of Holmes and Burnham, the Black City and the White City, and murder and architecture to show the conflicting nature of society at the time. The intercutting between stories was annoying only because it created more suspense and anticipation of what was going to happen next. As for characters, it’s hard to have an opinion because they were all actually real people, so I really can’t fault the writer if I didn’t like any of them. However, I feel like Larson did a good job of developing most of the important characters like Holmes and Burnham, especially since Larson can’t have actually known for sure what the characters were feeling. Overall, I enjoyed this book and the knowledge I gained from it about America in the late 19th century. This book is impressive, if for nothing else, for the meticulous research that went into writing it.
I echo your love for history & for Larsen's meticulous researching!
Overall I liked the book, I thought it was a pretty good read. My favorite story within the book would probably be the Burnham story, I know a lot of people I've talked to liked the Holmes side better but I thought the Burnham one was a little more interesting. I liked how you could imagine the whole entire fair and its buildings and just how the worlds most famous architects designed it. The Holmes story on the other hand was pretty good too though. It kind of amazes me how one guy could travel around the entire country killing people and have it take so long for him to found especially with the debt and fraud he piled up. I also found it very interesting how after Holmes was put to death, the people that had to do with his sentencing started to begin being killed one by one. I thought the work that Larson put in was very impressive and I especially liked how he put all of his sources at the end of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to others.
I really liked this book. I think that I liked both parts of the book equally well, but I may have found the Burnham plot a bit more interesting. I did like the Holmes plot though too. The Holmes plot really got more and more exciting as the book went on. The final part of the book that was almost entirely dedicated to the Holmes plot was very suspenseful, and I felt very excited while following along with Mr. Geyer and his travels. However, I felt like I enjoyed the Burnham plot a bit more. Although it wasn’t as suspenseful as the Holmes plot, I felt as if it were equally exciting. As the fair was being built, it became evident that it wasn’t going to finish in time. I felt some suspense as well as I wondered what would happen if thousands of visitors came to Chicago and were met with a half-finished fair. However, the extra time it took to complete the fair was definitely worth it. Even though I wasn’t actually at the fair, I could still feel a sense of awe while I read through Larson’s vivid descriptions of the fair. Larson’s descriptions of the fair, the Ferris Wheel, Buffalo Bill’s show, and all of the other miscellaneous activities in the fair really interested me. I was also amazed at how much of an impact the fair has on things today. Who knew that Walt Disney’s dad worked at the fair? And who knew that the Pledge of Allegiance was created for the fair? I sure didn’t. These links between the fair and now was really neat and interesting. As I read about the fair, I sorta felt the same sense of awe that I felt the first time I visited the National Mall in Washington D.C. I realized there were many similarities between the two places, and I almost began to think of the National Mall as a modern day World’s Fair. Overall, I felt that both of the plots of these two stories were very suspenseful; both of them would leave me unsure of what to expect as the stories went on.There were a bunch of characters in the book, but I guess I’ll just talk about the two big ones. Holmes seemed like a nice guy -- as long as you weren’t a young female. But I was just kidding, Holmes isn’t really that nice of a guy. Even though he takes on the guise of being a nice and friendly entrepreneur, none of those words truly describe what he is on the inside. Except maybe entrepreneur. Anyway, I didn’t really like Holmes. The way that Holmes toyed with his victims and established a (temporary) relationship with them really sorta makes me lose respect for him. However, even though he was a horrible person, he is definitely an interesting person. How was he able to kill all those people and scam all those businesses without being caught for so long? He seemed to be a very brilliant person, but he used his brilliance for bad purposes. And that leads me to the next person; Daniel Burnham, who was also brilliant. I really liked Burnham. He continued to work on the Fair, even when calamities happened and even when the fair was running way behind. Burnham continued to work hard even after his partner, John Root, died. (That leads me to think -- would the fair have been completed on time if Root had not passed away?). Burnham sacrificed a lot to build the World’s Fair, and in the end, the result was amazing. In fact, part of Burnham still lives on today. In Washington D.C., there is an urban walking trail that is dedicated to Burnham. It really shows how big of an impact Burnham had if he was important enough to have a walking trail dedicated to him.
Jiwei, I agree with your enthusiasm for the historical enlightenment. I also liked your connection to Washington D.C. I can imagine how thrilling it was for Larsen as he jumped into the research of these events--think about his discoveries and how thrilled he might have been to share them with the rest of us! Thank goodness for people willing to work so hard and create for the the world to see and experience vicariously.
It’s amazing this year how many outside events and activities are so relevant to my class work this year. From the musical to my trip to Washington DC, I’ve made connections to many of the subject materials we’ve been learning about. When Rachel noticed Burnham’s trail in Washington DC, I had a moment of realization, as if the fact that Devil in the White City is non-fiction had just hit me. Seeing artifacts from around 1893 also cemented in my mind the reality of the story itself.I’m still not sure what my opinion of Devil in the White City is. I’ve read the posts of those who said it was boring and those who called it one of their favorites, and I’m not sure where in the middle I lie. I’m used to reading fiction novels, with more dramatic characters and plot lines, so my basis for an entertaining story is very skewed. As a nonfiction book, Devil in the White City did as well as it possibly could have in describing the character’s emotions. Like Rachel mentioned, Larson could not have possibly known the thoughts and motivations of his characters, so he did a superb job on that front. Reading about the architecture was hard at first because I had no visual reference to imagine these buildings with. My experience with architecture before the trip to Washington DC consisted only of normal houses and skyscrapers. I had never before seen great, timeless structures like they had in Washington DC in such vast quantities before. Sure we have a few old buildings in Dubuque, like the Grand Opera House, but in Washington DC, even the simplest shops are laden with history and decorations. Seeing these structures really helped push along the slower points in the middle, as I was actually reading about the architecture as I was seeing something similar out of my hotel window. Through writing this post, I’ve decided that I like Devil in the White City, or at least, I don’t dislike it. It’s a novel that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, and was an interesting enough read. I wouldn’t read it again, but the little tidbits of trivia given throughout have definitely been amusing and enlightening, and may help me win Jeopardy someday!
I think it would be amazing to read the book while on a field trip to Chicago. Reading and visiting the actual places would bring another scintillating dimension to the text.
Larson wrote a very captivating book over all, it read more like fiction than nonfiction. The beginning and end are the most intriguing. Holmes is very well captured and the descriptions of his murders are believable and clearly well researched. The middle of the book became drier and more tedious. Obviously Larson couldn’t describe too much of Holmes’s activities because they aren’t truly known. However, I feel that he focused too much on the fair. Yes there were some very good parts about the fair, such as the creation of the Ferris wheel. On the other hand, Burnham’s constant struggle to build the fair on time was frustrating. As a reader I already knew that the fair would be completed. The beginning of the book even states that the Chicago fair was the greatest of all time. Burnham himself was interesting though. There were also a lot of new characters introduced in each chapter. I had a hard time figuring out which ones were important. One character would be mentioned in a short paragraph and turn out to change the course of the entire novel. Another character would be talked about for an entire chapter and seemed to only serve the purpose of filling pages. The end makes up for it. The ending was tied together well and raps up nicely. The conclusion of what happens to each character is satisfying, even of seldom mentioned characters such as Root’s wife. The plot would be more interesting to a person who is interested in architecture. As I am not, the book lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. Over all though, I was pleased with the book and am glad I read it.
Devil in the White City was a very intriguing read to say the least. It contained the fascinating backdrop of the World’s Fair, an enticing cast of characters that ranged from the steadfast Burnham to the charismatic Holmes to the unstable Pendergast. Even more fascinating was the fact that all of the events told within Devil in the White City, with the exception of some lines of dialogue, were all real. The non-fiction element of Devil in the White City is what truly makes it stand out, as it showcases the events of an almost dream-like state of American history in extreme detail. The careful attention to detail that Larson gave to the setting of Devil in the White City, however, pales in comparison to the personalities that were so readily apparent in the characters of this novel. Larson did a phenomenal job of reincarnating the lives of Root, Bloom, Burnham, Pendergast, Holmes, and many others through the pages of Devil in the White City. Because of this detail, the characters truly seemed like real men that had once walked this earth and lived in these cities instead of vague, symbolic placeholders and rudimentary plot advancers. Yet chief among all of his characters was the dastardly brilliant, multifaceted man known primarily by the name of H.H. Holmes. Holmes’s sadistic, unshakeable attitude was readily apparent throughout the novel, and he truly served as the archetype for the serial killer, the man who kills for fun, by the end of the story. Holmes’s unnatural charm and the pleasure he got from killing were well implemented throughout the book, especially in the climactic last section in which Holmes was hunted down and hung for his past crimes, which were now expanded to include the lives of the Pietzel children. Honestly, the only criticism I have about this novel was the writing style. Although I greatly appreciated the fictitious tone in which Devil in the White City was written in, as it added life to the typically boring affair of non-fiction stories, his writing tended to run dry at some points. The construction dragged on for far too long, and there were one too many mentions of Ferris wheels and neoclassical buildings for my taste. Like the Ferris wheel in the book, once you get over the initial excitement, the novelty wears off, and you start to only see the repetitive rotations. Larson’s writing followed a similar pattern. It would ensnare you with a new, enthralling topic before wearing it out with repeated mentions. However, there were enough new topics being introduced to counteract this tendency, making the final verdict on Devil in the White City a positive one.
Note: This is late because I did one of the final questions instead on accident. Overall, I was rather bored with Devil. It was primarily the Burnham plot that bored me. The Holmes story line kept me rather entertained though. The Burnham was just simply too slow. The mystique of Holmes is much more my style. The writing style was fairly simple, despite some advanced vocabulary. Holmes was by far my favorite character. Despite being a monster, the man was an absolute genius. Kudos to you Mr. Holmes.
Overall I would say I enjoyed the book. Although the contrasting stories between Holmes and Burnham worked together, Burnham's story was not nearly as interesting to me. I thought it involved too many minor details which made the sections get boring eventually, and the amount of minor characters that were introduced was hard to keep track of. In particular with the Ferris Wheel project, it got boring after awhile. Its importance was established, but the constant addition of minor details made me lose interest quickly. On the other hand, the sections about Holmes were very interesting to me. The Holmes story had a far more active plot and it was actually quite suspenseful for non-fiction. At the end of the book, I would say that it was worth the time to read. The Holmes plot made up for the Burnham plot, and disregarding my personal preference, they worked very well together.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Devil in the White City. As it goes for every book, I had likes and dislikes, in this case there was many more likes. A key element to the writing itself that I enjoyed was the authors use of foreshadowing. When funny little sentences appear, such as the Pietzel boy’s favorite possession, it creates curiosity and magnifies the effect when the end result is learned. I was immensely excited when I found out the purpose of the spinning top. The Burnham part of the plot intrigued me for two different reasons. The first being that I love the city of Chicago and learning how many parts of the city developed was very intriguing to me. I was able to make constant connections with street names and suburbs, and that helped keep my interest. I also (somewhat) enjoyed the architecture. I have a friend who is a part of ISU’s architecture program, and I tried to concentrate to learn more about what types of things she studies. The plot itself was well developed and kept my interest by stressing me out with all of the setbacks and disasters. My main dislike for the Burnham story is the lengthy and detailed chapters. After 40 pages of reading, the story becomes slightly dry and hard to take in. As for the Holmes plot, of course I loved it. These days the twisted mind of a teenager enjoys reading about gruesome murder. I will admit, part four of the novel got under my skin. Holmes’s imprisonment eerily reminded me of Silence of the Lambs (which creeps me out for more than one reason), and I actually became a little frightened of him. Once the stories came up about the Devilry duties that took place after his death, I thought something was going to happen to me for reading the book. I suppose this means that I deeply connected with the horror and gruesomeness of the Holmes story. I can’t say that I was enjoying myself at all parts of the story, but I was definitely intrigued. In order to really enjoy this book, I think that it is necessary to have an open mind when reading both stories. It is much easier to enjoy the book and get yourself through a couple hundred pages if you try to make connections.
Excellent point about making connections while reading. That has become second nature to me when reading anything. I guess everything is just about me! =) Anyway, I have this propensity for seeing the supernatural in everything. I am intrigued by Holmes' aura--his connection to demonic forces. There has to be something to that; there are too many "coincidences" associated with both story lines to merit natural causes. I think I like that???? It is freaky, though.
I thought that Erick Larson did an outstanding job of piecing together the story of the Devil in the White City. Although some parts of the story seemed irrelevant and random at the time, the end of the book tied everything together and showed how all of the stories were somehow connected. I also really enjoyed Larson's writing style in the piece. He was very precise with his diction and made sure that every single sentence he wrote displayed the mood he wanted to convey. For example, in many parts of the story line it was essential that the reader felt a sense of anxiety and frustration. Larson brought up these emotions by constantly bringing up disappointments and deadlines. This strategy made me feel as if I was involved in the story. One thing that I didn't like about Larson's writing, was the constant use of foreshadowing. It made the book seem slightly too predictable. It made me lose some interest in the book because I already knew what was going to be happen. Despite some parts of the book that lacked exciting events, I found the plot of the novel extremely interesting. Larson juxtaposed the two plot lines to help signify the contrast between the two sides of Chicago. The World's fair side of the story shows the astonishing side of Chicago and the Holmes's side shows the negative things that happened 'behind the curtain'. Although the Holmes story did a much better job at keeping my attention, I think the book would feel incomplete without the Architecture side of the book. The characters of the book were very intriguing to me. I liked how Larson fully developed each of the characters because it helped me understand their motives and helped me make more accurate inferences. The development of each of the characters also made it possible for me to connect to each of them better. Another thing that I like about how Larson conveyed the characters was how he made it very obvious that each of them had obsessions that drove them on. This obvious observation helped pull out one of the themes or motifs from the book, that we can use our 'obession' in a positive way, or in a very negative way.
In my opinion, the book was nothing spectacular. I love reading historical books, because I find it interesting to be sent back in time to these time periods and be put into a story from the past. However, for some reason, this book didn't really 'draw me in'. On the other hand the book was VERY well written, and is a masterpiece of a novel. And I can give all the credit in the world to Larson for his extensive research. All of the facts used were very well described, however I found Burnham's section almost too factual. There was nothing to make you want to keep reading on about his life. However, what I did like a lot was the conclusion. Those are always the best parts of books and I really enjoyed it in this book as well. I enjoyed how good and evil had been divided in a way for so long throughout the book, and finally they merged together in the ending.
I thought that the book had a lot of good and bad parts about it. From the beginning the story is about Brunham and his life and the beginning of the construction. This was very boring to me and it made it hard to get into the book. I enjoyed the Holme's part of the book and it gave a lot of background information about Holmes. It shows that Holmes has been the way he is for his whole life. I also like the mini plot of Pendergast. It really kept the book interesting and exciting to watch the plots unfold and both Holmes and Pendergast are mentally unstable. This is very interesting because it is crafty and clever, even though it isn't in a good way. I think that the stories are interconnected because while everything was going on with the building of the fair and such, a whole different world was happening. I think that Larson does a good job of showing that.