Perhaps it was because of my earlier post on my declining reading habits, or possibly because I reached the good part of the book and was hungry to finish it. Whatever the reason was, today I finally finished the book I had been slowly reading for months. It’s not the greatest accomplishment I’ve ever achieved, but it feels like a giant weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
So what did I think of The Devil in the White City? If it took me several months to go cover to cover I couldn’t have enjoyed it that much, right?
On the contrary, there are many things I liked about the book. The author, Erik Larson, managed to pull together some pretty mundane facts and trivia tidbits and spun them into a believable narrative. There are times when reading that it’s easy to forget that it is actually nonfiction (save for a couple of instances where the author actually does make up an imagined narrative, but that’s a critique for another time). As a lover of history and storytelling, it was easy to fall into this book. Larson writes very well; I definitely enjoyed reading his prose.
Once I fell in, however, it sometimes felt like a slog to make my way through all of the different viewpoints and storylines. I can handle one or two different viewpoints in a book, but this one has quite a few. At times it goes off on tangents that don’t seem to have any relevance to the story the author is trying to tell. By the end of the tale it becomes a little more clear why Larson included chapters from the viewpoint of some secondary characters, but it was a long time coming. It probably didn’t help that I stretched the reading period over several months, but it was a little difficult to keep up with and remember who every character was.
The convergence of the two primary storylines is also too brief. There’s not much the author could have done to change events that happened over 100 years ago, but the back cover of the book seemed to suggest they’d become much more intertwined. The book spends most of its time focusing on the 1893 World’s Fair and the life of H. H. Holmes, but there’s only a brief moment where Holmes is actually at the fair. Before starting the book, and without much knowledge of the fair, I thought Holmes was going to play a much larger role in how people remember the fair today. This was not the case. As it turns out he was just one of many actors playing a part in Chicago that year.
Despite these critiques the book was still a good read. If you, reader, are not a fan of historical narratives that leave no stone unturned, however, this may not be the right book for you. For those of you who may enjoy a good true-crime book or are fans of historical architects, I can’t imagine a better book for you to read.