This isn`t a book review about a business book. It`s a historic novel about a serial killer who went about his business during the 1893 World`s Fair in Chicago. The title is, "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America," by Erik Larson.
What struck me about this book is the unbelievable number of things
that changed and came into the marketplace as a result of this fair. It
was actually the World`s Columbian Exposition, marking the 400th
anniversary of Columbus discovering America (per the legend). When it
was built, due to the commonality of white paint, it became known as
the White City.
I had no idea about much of the information I learned in the book, and
I live around Chicago! Yeesh!! But it isn`t a history book, or a dry
rehashing of old news. Instead, Larson takes a guy named Holmes and
builds his story as a serial killer and psychopath. Larson then
juxtaposes the killer with a fella named Daniel Burnham, the lead
We follow both men as Chicago makes a bid for the fair, and each one
begins an incredible segment of their lives. Another thing that really
hit home was the astonishing lack of interest in helping a group
effort. Everyone was out for themselves, barely capable of working
toward a "bigger picture" at all. None of them saw this fair with the
perspective we have, 100 years later, so it was "just another big
There`s a lot of vivid description of how awful it was to live in a big
city at that time, only 100 years ago, and in particular, Chicago. The
pork slaughterhouse produced a stench beyond comprehension today. Then
there were the coal fires, cinders, smoke, filth, and raw sewage. Add
to that dead animals, decaying carcasses, and the cacaphony of horse`s
hooves and wagon wheels, and it`s stunning!
As an entrepreneur, writer, and someone interested in business, I
became immersed in the story of the fair. We think WE have logistics
problems! Oy...! Imagine building some of the largest buildings in
history, using only manual labor, horses and trains. Thousands of
horses were used to bring in tons and tons of steel, and of course that
led to tons of manure! What to do with that!?
It was a time when Edison and Tesla were trying to prove which was a
better way to deliver this newfangled Electricity stuff. Edison
invented DC (direct current), and Tesla was pushing his AC (alternating
current) system. Tesla won out, and all of modern history was
determined as to how we use power.
Meanwhile, throughout the story Larson moves back and forth to H.H.
Holmes (one of many aliases), a charming, personable "doctor," who
replicated what was happening in England with Jack the Ripper. Holmes
killed far more people than Jack, and gained similar notoriety, yet I`d
never heard of him!
Did you know that around 1893 America was falling into a massive
financial collapse? Banks were failing, businesses were going under
left and right, and countless "hobos" (new word at that point) were
traveling the rails. All I`d heard about was the 1929 stock market
crash, and had no idea there was as severe a crash forty years earlier!
Anyway, I really had a good time reading this book. The names of people
involved are all memorable icons of history. Yet, to themselves, it was
just another thing to do. It really puts a perspective on things, and
how caught up we all get in our lives, our times, and our society.
Then, only 100 years later, it`s seen completely differently.
The fair never would have been built---not a chance in hell---given
today`s regulations, lawsuits, controls, and utter incapacity for
society to agree on anything. It makes you wonder: What else are we
totally missing the boat with, due to the near-absolute schism we face
today between liberal and conservative ideology.