Wednesday, August 15, 2007


A narrative account of two men in Chicago at the 1893 World Fair. One man is the architect who oversaw the building of the fair (a monumental undertaking). The other is a serial killer--one of the earliest documented (and possibly among the more prolific) serial killers in US history.

The narrative was entertaining, and certainly well written. I personally have a problem with nonfiction that over-dramatizes the past--maybe it's my dumb history degree, but it always bothers me a little when an author, for the sake of narrative fluidity, puts words in the mouths or thoughts in the heads of real people. At the end of this book you're left with the impression that Holmes is guilty of countless (hundreds of) murders. I'm not saying he's any saint, but there is only concrete evidence that he was involved in 9 of those murders. The author has perhaps (unwittingly) let other murderers off the hook for the sake of making Holmes's story as exciting and despicable as possible.

Also... and this is trashy to say, but true... I found myself much more interested in the chapters about Holmes (the killer) than Burnham (the architect). I flipped dutifully through the accounts of structural difficulties, municipal politics, and high society shenanigans, but (dare I admit it? Yeah--since my guess is that at least a few other readers secretly felt the same) felt much more tantalized by the passages where Holmes was luring innocent young women into his sound-proof kiln.

Anyway. An entertaining read. And a nice picture of the turn of the 20th century.


Rose said...

Read this a couple years ago - completely agree. Except, maybe, for the history degree part, since I don't have one and am unaware of many historical things. Ignorant businesspeople.

angelle said...

see im confused. there's a picture of michael chabon/yiddish policeman yadda yadda (as does the title), and yet when i click to comment it says this entry is devil in white city, so which is it!?

Froog said...

Saw this in an airport bookshop a while ago, was very tempted. I had assumed, though, that it was a historical novel rather than non-fiction. It's slid right off the bottom of my 'to read' list now!

vivian said...

angelle is right; this is screwed up. the title needs to be changed, and the Chabon book cover eliminated.