Summary: Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his.Read more.
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Erik Larson: The Devil in the White City Audio Book Summary
The Devil in the White City is a new nonfiction thriller by Erik Larson. Larson has previously had much success with his number one bestselling In the Garden of Beasts, and has now returned with another story culled from the annals of history that is designed to raise pulses and make the reader bite their nails. This time, Larson has applied his lush and evocative style to a tale that is grim as it is fascinating. He wrings the pathos out of an otherwise dark and even grotesque situation, pairing the light with the shadows in order to create something altogether different.
This nonfiction narrative occurs in 1893. It takes place in Chicago, mere months before the World’s Fair. This is a setting that is all glamour and good fun on the surface, but can quickly devolve into a sordid underworld in the blink of an eye. During this span of time, the upper crust and industrial types are busy preparing the city for the incoming influx of happy visitors, while the darker elements of the city continue to operate more or less unhindered. This Chicago is a land of contrast, of black and white with very little in between.
The narrative follows two different characters. The first is a man named Daniel H. Burnham. He is a relatively well regarded architect, who has been tasked with the construction of the buildings which will house the many marvels to be presented during the World’s fair. The design and building process has been plagued with difficulties, including the untimely death of his own partner, making the future of the buildings seem uncertain and the pace decidedly frantic. His is a story firmly entrenched in upper society conventions, and there are special appearances made by a number of well known and loved actors and actresses.
The second narrative is the darkness that emphasizes the presence of light. It centers around a doctor named H. H. Holmes, who is also participating in the construction of the World’s fair. He is a man who appears as steadfastly charming and is well loved for this quality. Of course, this facade conceals a deep and dark secret. His construction project is filled with all sorts of grim accessories, from gas chambers to crematoriums, and uses it as a base from which he commits a number of different murders. Holmes is a real life sort of boogeyman, a person who is so depraved under the surface, but impossibly nice from the outside. His story preys on our shared cultural fears that even the people we know and love may not be who they claim to be.
Larson’s new tale is filled with all kinds of exciting reveals and sharp turns and twists. It’s the sort of thing that people would disregard as the product of an overactive imagination, if the whole thing was not known to be true. Instead, it serves as a document that affirms the strengths and weaknesses that exist in all men.