Friday, September 30, 2011

RIP Read 1: The Devil in the White City

I spent most of September trying to get through The Mysteries of Udolpho but when I was only one third of the way through after almost three weeks, I threw up my hands and threw down the book. I needed something to get me back on track and so I picked up The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Thank you to everyone who recommended that I finally read this one! It was just what I needed.

I'm not going to write much about this book because many of you have already read it and others will probably be at least a bit familiar with it. For those who aren't, the long and short of it is that it tells the parallel stories of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century and the exploits of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer and all-around creep in sheep's clothing. Larson takes a little bit of liberty and really creates a narrative with the facts that he unearthed to make it a compelling read. (He explains why he did so in the end notes and I accepted his reasoning even though it bugged me a bit while reading.)

My only complaint (and why I gave it 4.5 stars on LibraryThing instead of 5) is that I love science and wanted to read more about Tesla and less about architecture. I know that it would have been a heftier tome if Larson had included everything possible about the fair but I was just a bit sad that the amazing things that were happening at the Exposition were glossed over. Even the first electric chair (thanks a lot, Edison) was only given one sentence.

But, of course, I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested and it certainly made a chilling RIP read. The evil that men do is always worse than any fiction.

Avoiding life insurance policies that benefit relative strangers,
K

19 comments:

  1. I listened to the audiobook of this a few years ago and I really enjoyed it. I was impressed at how much Larsen did manage to include, even though I know he had to leave plenty of good stuff out. The whole history of the Ferris wheel was especially interesting.

    And LOL on Udolpho! I read an abridged version in college and liked it fine for the silly melodrama, but I have the complete version on my shelf and will get to it one day (whether I'll finish is another matter). Jenny and I are reading one of her shorter books for the Classics Circuit. We'll see how it goes.

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  2. I really need to reread this one, which I rarely ever do, because there are so many great details I have forgotten!

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  3. I keep hearing about this one. So many books, so little time!

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  4. Teresa - I know, it's not fair that I am complaining about him leaving something out when it was such a big event but I'm complaining anyway. ;) The Ferris Wheel part was super interesting!
    Man, the abridged version seems like a good way to go! I'm about 200 pages in of 600 and it's a really tough read. I don't want to give up on it because it's wasn't awful but I don't know if I'll pick it back up this RIP season or not.

    Lola - It really is one of those few non-fiction that you would consider rereading!

    Jenners - Amen, lady! I wasn't sure I would ever get to it!

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  5. I have heard a lot about this book, and your review makes me definitely want to read it! Thanks and Happy Reading!

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  6. I much, much preferred reading about the Exposition to the details of the serial killer - and would rather have had more details on that and less on H.H. Holmes!

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  7. Priya - I hope that you do pick it up! It's a really easy read.

    Tracy - I just can't believe that the Chicago police couldn't tie together the sheer number of people that went missing that happened to be in relationships with this one man! It was making me a bit angry. I am thinking of finding more to read about the Exposition. I have a Tesla biography that I'm hoping has the stuff in it that I wished was in this one!

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  8. Ooh, I didn't even think about this one as a good RIP read! My book group chose it for our early November meeting. I've had a copy for a while and am excited to finally be reading it. It sounds really good!

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  9. I really must read a Tesla biography! Which one are you reading, Kristen?

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  10. Great review! I think the biggest issue inherent with this book is that there's just **so much** that could be included that I actually feel bad for the author trying to make hide or hair of it. Some bits surely had to be cut else, like you said, it'd be a 2000 page tome. When I read it I actually remember getting bored with the sciency bits and wanted to get back to the more human elements.

    And I'm laughing at your sign-off...I'd forgotten about that insurance thing until you'd mentioned it.

    Happy reading!

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  11. Erin - I kind of like the idea of non-fiction RIP reads. They're even spookier because they're real!

    Tracy - I got Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney as it seemed to be universally liked. I'm hoping to read it before the end of the year.

    Kate - Totally! With the detail that he included in the book, I can only imagine how much he had to leave out that was related to these two stories!

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  12. I really liked this book, but I too found it crazy that the guy basically built a murder hotel and no one noticed.

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  13. Glad you read and enjoyed this great book--for the record, I loved the architecture parts :)

    Larson is currently one of my favorite authors--not only is he a good writer who knows how to create suspense in non-fiction but he picks such interesting stories to tell.

    Grea t review!

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  14. This book has been on my TBR pile for quite some time and I still haven't read it. It went through a period where it was getting reviewed all the time and everyone seemed to like it. I really need to actually read it now...

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  15. I look forward to reading your review of Margaret Chheney's book, then, Kristen.

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  16. Thisnerdinglife - Seriously!

    Janegs - I didn't mind the architecture parts but I really missed the science. It was an amazing time for that!

    Kailana - I think I owned it for at least a year and had it on my TBR for years before that. It happens!

    Tracy - I hope I can get to it!

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  17. How did I ever miss this one? I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed this book, even despite the minor portion you didn't actually care for! And, your sign-off totally made me laugh!!

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  18. Tif - Thanks for putting this one at the top of my list for this year's RIP challenge! Your enthusiasm for it was definitely contagious. :)

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  19. I have now served my purpose! :)

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