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“The Devil in The White City” is a thrill of history

Erik Larson’s renowned book, ‘The Devil in The White City’ has grown in popularity since its original release. The historical true crime tale employs a unique novel-style method of storytelling which invites the reader into a funny, suspenseful, and ultimately horrifying tale about the glory of the Chicago World’s Fair and the terror of H.H. Holmes’s murder hotel, in which hundreds of women allegedly went missing.

‘The Devil in The White City’ is one of Larson’s five historical novels, and is surely his most exciting. The book details the occurrences of the 1963 World’s Fair, known most prominently as The Columbian Exhibition. Closely following the Parisian Exposition Universelle in 1889, the storyline traces the raw ambition of both the chief architect, and the entire city of Chicago, in the setting of a Gilded Age, expanding America. However, while the book does focus on the industry, leaders, and great minds that lead the fair, it also focuses on those who drew the short stick in the highly industrialized era. The book also displays those who were wronged by the then current system, and the actions they eventually were forced to take. But most intriguing of all, ‘The Devil in The White City’ tells the tale of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

Holmes ran a hotel complex in Chicago, just a few blocks away from the fair, and was rumored to have kidnapped and killed up to 200 people during the time the fair was open. Holmes killed his guests in many elaborate ways, and was also one of the most successful con men of his age by buying almost everything off of credit.

The intertwined nature and contrast of the stories of success, Holmes’s success in murder, and the fair’s success in business, show an intimate side to The Gilded Age. Appalling squalor, excessive wealth, enormous success, and meticulous schemes are the content of this true crime story. Larson skillfully integrates historical context and periodization into the tale, and the book is remarkably ideal for an East student who has recently undertaken a U.S. History class or is preparing to enter one in the fall. The relationships Larson details, as well as the symbolism within the story, serve as perfect views into the Gilded Age and prove valuable to anyone studying the themes of the time period.

‘The Devil in The White City’ is also the subject of Leonardo DiCaprio’s newest collaboration with renowned director, Martin Scorsese. The pair last worked on the raucous cult favorite film, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Currently in production, the film adaptation of Larson’s book will feature DiCaprio as the infamous serial killer, H.H Holmes.

‘The Devil in The White City’ makes history truly interesting, and the book is essential for anyone interested in the roots of American crime, or industrialization. Eric Larson implores readers to explore the splendor and luxury of the Chicago World’s Fair’s ‘White City,’ but also to recognize the horrific reality of Chicago in the 1890s, or ‘The Black City.’

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