Saturday, August 18, 2007

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Devil in the White City came to me highly recommended, but I can't say I was overly thrilled. I was under a time constraint and so was forced to listen to it on audio, which, truth be told, is not my favorite way to read a book, though I feel very efficient.

Perhaps I wasn't intrigued with the serial killer, Holmes. Larson wrote about Holmes childhood with a little too much bias, in my opinion. I felt myself thinking in frustration, "He (Larson) can't KNOW that!" There are several incidents were Larson makes conjectures about Holmes reaction to stressful events or his attitude toward animals. Since there doesn't seem to be any proof of his reaction or attitude in either situation, I would have preferred that Larson kept his account a little more objective, at least during this portion of the tale.

Perhaps I wasn't intrigued by the development of the World's Fair in Chicago. It seemed that Larson went over every painstaking detail 10 times - the committees, the architecture, the bad weather plaguing it all. There were moments during this portion that captured my interest - particuarly when it was revealed (finally) what the structure was that would "out-Eiffel Eiffel." I also enjoyed the moments that involved Frederick Law Olmsted, who was also developing the grounds for the Biltmore House in North Carolina, which is a place I've visited three times. His view of landscape architecture and his ability to plan 40 years in advance were very impressive. I just couldn't get a sense of the buildings somehow.

I'm in the minority on this one. Others I've talked to find this book one of the best non-fiction books they've ever read. I just found it too slow and detailed - and I'm not usually one to shy away from detail. Perhaps I just don't respond to being read to. On this one, it might be best to NOT take my word for it.