The DEVIL in the WHITE CITY

Eric Lawson

Rating - 4/5

"A dynamic, enveloping book. ... Relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel.... It doesn't hurt that this is truth stranger than fiction." - THE NEW YORK TIMES


"So good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already." - ESQUIRE


"Engrossing ... exceedingly well documented ... utterly fascinating." - CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Summary

"Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller In the Garden of Beasts—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction."


The purpose of this book is to inform the reader of both the Chicago World Fair and the serial killer known as H. H. Holmes.

Concepts, Principles, Techniques

A) One cannot read the architects' chapters without learning something of architecture. A notable example for myself would be the pouring of cement into drills holes to create a solid foundation for building on in otherwise marshy and poor ground.


B) Another notable concept, this one from the Serial Killer chapters, is how easily humans can be manipulated if you know how to interact with them. Holmes is able to easily convince others of whatever he wishes with a disarming smile and warm personality, going so far as to convince debt collectors to leave him alone.


C) Lastly, the use of foliage, flowers, shrubbery, etc., to enhance the look and feel of surrounding buildings in ways I'd not thought of before.

Passage #1

"The panic came, as it always did. Holmes imagines Anna crumpled in a corner. If he chose, he could rush to the door, throw it open, and weep with her at the tragedy just barely averted. He could do it at the last minute, in the last seconds. He could do that.


Or he could open the door and look in on Anna and give her a big smile- just to let her know this was no accident- then close the door, slam it, and return to his chair to see what might happen next. Or he could flood the vault, right now, with gas. The hiss and repulsive odor would tell just as clearly as a smile that something extraordinary was under way.


He could do any of these things.


...


He filled the vault with gas, just to be sure." - Pg.295-296

Modus Operandi

The chapter that left the greatest impression, on me at least, was one of Holmes' chapters; Modus Operandi. Just a page and a half starting on pg.256, but it reveals Holmes' motives, personality, and goals. He wants nothing more than to possess people, to make them his own.


Earlier chapters had explored his seduction of young women, his ability to influence people's actions, and generally win over anyone he met. In this chapter we learn it is his desire for power over others that drives these things. The final moments of his victims' lives, cut short by suffocation in his vault, gas in their rooms at night, or a simple chloroform rag over their mouths; Holmes could choose how to end their lives from many options, which he held to be a testament to his power.

Passage #2

"Holmes did not kill face to face, as Jack the Ripper had done, gorging himself on warmth and viscera, but he did like proximity. He liked being near enough to hear the approach of death in the rising panic of his victims. This was when his quest for possession entered its most satisfying phase. The vault deadened most of the cries and pounding but not all. When the hotel was full of guests, he settled for more silent means. He filled a room with gas and let the guest expire in their sleep, or he crept in with his passkey and pressed a chloroform-soaked rag to her face. Th choice was his, a measure of his power." - Pg.257

Issue Addressed in Book

An interesting comparison can be made of bureaucrats in general and the bureaucrats in the book who nearly kill the World Fair in an attempt to save money, which ironically would ultimately have resulted in less profit. While the book does not seem to be trying to make any such comparisons, one cannot help but notice the inefficiency and shortsightedness displayed by the bureaucrats in the book and those we must deal with every day. That the fair would have been a financial loss in addition to dying if the bureaucrats had had their way, instead of the financial success and general wonder it was, speaks volumes as to how these bureaucrats couldn't even manage their own jobs, let alone anyone else's.