This is actually a reread for me. I originally read it shortly after it came out in paperback several years ago. Since then my tastes have changed a little and I’ve gotten myself a history degree and it’s really deepened my appreciation for this book. Larson’s research is meticulous and his writing is engaging and reads more like literary fiction than a historical text. Word has it that Leonardo Dicaprio has bought the film rights to this book and I am super excited.
The book tells the parallel stories of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect in charge of the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair and Dr. H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who lured fair goers into his specially designed hotel (for you American Horror Story fans, Evan Peters’ character in the Hotel season is based on Holmes). Both Burnham and Holmes were ambitious men for whom the fair would make their reputations. Though it is Burnham’s accomplishments that are move visible in the modern city, it is Holmes’ name and grisly works that people remember today.
What’s striking from Burhman’s chapter is how difficult the building process was in the late 19th century. Today we watch buildings appear seemingly overnight but even the task Burnham and his associates took on was Herculean. From Holmes’ chapters, what’s stunning is how easily he seemed to be able to get away with not only cold-blooded murder but fraud for so long. In fact, it was an insurance fraud case that finally brought the actions of America’s first urban serial killer to light. If you haven’t already picked up this book, I encourage you to do so soon, so you can nitpick the film when it eventually comes out.