The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson — A Review

devilinwhitecityThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

RaeleighReads rating: cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3

Harrumph!

Okay, my initial reaction was, “OOoooo, I think I really like this!” But then a few days passed, and now I’m leaning more toward, “Umm, this really isn’t non-fiction.” :/

Now, I don’t typically read non-fiction. I spent the better part of a decade immersed in academia only to come out of it as an academic librarian. My whole day is consumed by research, problem solving, and technical jargon. So, when I read I lean toward YA fantasy, so as not to overtax my already overtaxed brain.

That said, the academician lurking in my breast just can’t be satisfied with this. It’s too speculative. It’s too fabricated to truly call itself non-fiction. Larson did an AMAZING amount of research, and I believe he strung together two different narratives — the creation of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago and the horrifying story of Dr. H. H. Holmes and his “Murder Castle” — fairly well. BUT. He inserts himself too much into the facts of these events, giving people gestures and thoughts and motivations that can’t possibly be verified. Frequently I found myself withdrawing from the book because he would state that so-and-so felt a certain way or must have thought a certain thing.

I’ve been trained to eschew this type of speculation from my academic (non-fiction) writing, but Larson’s book runs rampant with it. Unfortunately for me, the more I think about it the less happy I am with the book.

I will say this in Larson’s favor, this is the only “non-fiction” book I have read quickly and thoroughly that was not required reading for my studies or my profession. So, kudos for that! Also, I will likely try one more of his books. I find his writing style compelling just not convincing or academically rigorous.

This book was the January read with the group Diversity in All Forms on Goodreads.

Stay tuned for a review of our February read, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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2 thoughts on “The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson — A Review

  1. It’s a populist style of history, I’ll give you that. But it’s a compelling style. Isaac’s Storm was gripping. Dead Wake also good. I was less thrilled with In the Garden of Beasts. Spoiler alert: Nazis were creeps.

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    • Hi, rossmurray, it is definitely compelling! The fiction reader in me gobbled it up. It was only after a few days that my brain started protesting 🙂 I’ll have to check out Isaac’s Storm, Dead Wake, and In the Garden of Beasts. Thanks for the recs! Cheers!

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