Adult Non-Fiction Book Review ~ The Devil in the White City

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As a teacher I was constantly guiding kids to make connections while they were reading. You can connect the text to yourself, other books, or the world around you. Does the book remind you of something you’ve seen or somewhere you’ve been? Something you’ve experienced? Another book you’ve read or movie you’ve watched? A good connection can make any book stay with you for a lifetime and can be key to making a child into a life-long reader. This is the glory of bookclubs and discussions, fandoms, alternate adaptations and more. Your connections being shared with others strengthens the initial connection and helps you to internalize the story, themes, sympathize with the characters and more.
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As an adult with an absolutely horrid memory when I can make connections with a book it helps it stick in my brain a bit longer which is always a plus. One of my favorite ways to make connections is to see the location or subject in person if possible. (An excuse to travel…never a bad thing, right?)
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Several years ago I read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson with a bookclub and was enthralled by the way he told the parallel stories of the architecture, organization, and creation of the vast modern fairgrounds for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition and the tale of H.H. Holmes, a young doctor, psychopath and serial killer. The advancements and transformation of a swamp to the brilliant White City juxtaposed with the dark, seedy underbelly of those same advancements is masterfully handled and kept me riveted from first page to last. It was one of the books I convinced my husband to read with me after we got married and he was just as enthralled. So much so that when we had some frequent flier miles to use up we planned a trip to Chicago to see the buildings, grounds, and history first hand.
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We spent several days wandering the city, eating amazing food and catching a performance of Hamilton (which was also absolutely amazing, and lead to an interest in the founding fathers and other book readings…the best connections tend to lead to more connections!) But we made a point to visit the fairgrounds (the only original building left has become The Museum of Science and Industry) and study the work of the architects who were so influential to the area.
Museum of Science and Industry
Frank Lloyd Wright spent the first part of his career in the Chicago area and worked with Daniel Burnham (the architect of the Flatiron Building in New York and architect of many of the exposition buildings) who worked with Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of Central Park and planner of the exposition) to bring the fair to life.
Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House
These amazing stairs are located in The Rookery, a building designed by Burnham where Wright worked for years.
Stairway in Rookery
We also sampled the brownies at the Palmer House hotel. They were created there under the direction of Bertha Palmer to be served at the exposition. She wanted a portable snack that women could eat with their gloves on. Deliciously chewy topped with cherry ice cream! (Other foods that were introduced at or evolved from the fair include Cracker Jacks, Shredded Wheat, pancake mix, chewing gum, Cream of Wheat, and Vienna Beef hot dogs.)
Palmer House brownie
It was a fascinating time and an even more fascinating book. I highly recommend both the book and the city! And I’d love to hear about your own book connections and field trips!
Devil in the White City book review

The Devil in the White City

Written by: Erik Larson

Number of Pages: 447

Publisher: Crown, 2003

Age Range: Adult

Rating: 5/5

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