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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larson's spellbinding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men--the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; 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.…

Overall Book Review:

The Devil in the White City tells the story of two incredibly different men for whom the Chicago World’s Fair represented the pivotal event in their lives. The author brings the reader inside the world of these two individuals and, through the characters’ writings and the accounts of people who knew them, also brings the reader somewhat into their mindset. Both protagonists, a hero and a villain, share many of the same traits. They are driven, creative, and charismatic individuals. However, the similarities mostly end there, since one is a brilliant architect and the other is a wily murderer. Larson does a fantastic job of weaving these two stories into an interesting and engrossing whole, even though they are unrelated by anything other than the major historical event around which they revolve,

The setting of late 19th century Chicago, with its extremes of wealthy excess and abject poverty, its corporate powerhouse of industry, and its artistic cityscape make a fascinating setting for this book. The city of Chicago itself is so detailed that it can almost be viewed as an additional character. The author clearly did a massive amount of research on the culture, history, and people of Chicago while researching the lives of his two primary subjects.

This book is a compelling piece of nonfiction that is as entertaining as it is informative. The subject is one with which readers are unlikely to be familiar with unless they are enthusiasts of the history of Chicago, so it offers a detailed and informative look into a fresh topic. Though the book is completely factual, with quotes from original documents and legal records to bolster its authenticity, it reads with a smooth narrative flow that seems like the pace of fictional novel. This book is a great read for history buffs and true crime readers, and those who like crime novels might also find it engaging.

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  4 religious exclamations; 8 mild obscenities.

Violence/Gore:  A character tries to find an opportunity to murder another character; a tribe of natives is believed to be cannibals, but this is not confirmed; a fewreports of incidents such as traffic and train accidents and fires; mention of a historical serial killer; mention of a historical event in which a woman killed her parents; report of animals slaughtered in meat packing industry; a few reports of major injuries and deaths on construction sites; report of animal corpses left to rot in the sun; a few reports of a suicides; décor at a location includes skulls, blood, and weapons that had been used in actual murders; report of dissection of live, incapacitated animals; people disappear a few times, with speculation that they were murdered; bodies are discovered in a river and other locations where they were dumped; a few reports of people murdered (no details); report of bad injuries, including a lost limb, in an accident; characters discover human remains on a few occasions; report of a corpse being dismembered; report of animal deaths; report of a child murdered; human remains are shown off in court, and a description of human remains given as evidence; report of children killed by gas, gruesomely described; report of drownings in a shipwreck; report or a series of accidental deaths and injuries; report of patients killed in a hospital; a mob beats two men without causing major injury; a description (but not detailed) of the process of stripping flesh from bones in a scientific context; older children force a young child into a room with various creepy items, such as a human skeleton; a few buildings burn or are destroyed by natural forces;a character dies an untimely death by disease; a child dies due to medical error; people die in a heat wave; a characters kills others, including a child, with poison; an accident on a carnival ride results in death and injuries; a character murders another by suffocation;  several people are killed in burning buildings; a character is shot to death; a character is executed as punishment for crimes; a few graphic descriptions of animal slaughter techniques; graphic description of historical serial killings; report of a shipwreck with deaths includes a brief but graphic description of the crew being mangled by machinery.

Sex/Nudity:  Employers ask for a physical description before hiring ladies (implication that they may be hiring them for something more sexual than the advertised job); a few characters flirt, court one another, and marry; mention of dancing girls wearing skimpy outfits; a few texts of historical love-letters are quoted; belly-dancing is used as entertainment; mention of brothels; a teen boy tries to pressure a teen girl into having sex with him; mention of a “conjugal visit”; brief, non-detailed discussion of the prostitution industry;report of an extramarital affair; discussion that a marital relationship is physically passionate (no details); characters have an extramarital affair; report of an abortion; report of a couple in a “purely physical” relationship; a character cheats on his wife; mention that committing murder provides a character with sexual satisfaction;report of a woman dancing naked.

Mature Subject Matter:

Murder; serial killing is a major plot element; prostitution (mention); suicide (reported); an organization is fascinated with and idealizes death and murder; bullying; theft; spouse abandonment, grave robbing, fraud; gambling (mention); polygamy; murder for hire (attempted); kidnapping; death (friend); divorce;  abortion; the mindset of a psychopath is described at length, which may be disturbing to some readers; racial discrimination; loss of a child; mental illness.

Alcohol / Drug Use:

An adult has a past wine and cigar habit; adults drink champagne and liquor; a character is an opium addict; brandy and bromides are used medicinally.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

My taste in literature leans heavily towards sci-fi, fantasy, and (my favorite) horror, and the latter can present some fairly murky waters for parents to let their children explore. I enjoy novels of both the standard and graphic varieties. Since those genres, and graphic novels in particular, tend to appeal to boys, I hope that I can help other Boy Mommies in their quest to find books that their little video gamers--I mean, future bibliophiles will read and enjoy. When I am not reading, I enjoy tabletop role-playing games, video games, and singing karaoke. I have a wonderful husband who lets me indulge my reading habit by sharing the housework and being a great dad to our genius kids and their faithful hound.