I almost never recommend historical books, especially if they’re non-fiction. Mostly because historical non-fiction is almost always written for historians. While I read a lot of excellent books published by academic presses, I would never tell my friends to read them because, quite frankly, academic reading is much more rigorous than leisure reading.
Erik Larson’s work is the best of both worlds. Seriously. Larson was trained as a historian and a journalist, which means he knows how to dig for evidence and analyze what he finds, and write a narrative. Devil is actually two stories- the first is of the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the second of H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. Larson weaves accounts of Holmes’ murders against the backdrop of the designing of the World’s Fair.
The chapters on Holmes are, at times, gruesome, but I found them to be well-balanced with the story of the World’s Fair. This book does have a lot of detail in it, but I could not put it down. If you liked Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I think you might like this one, although if you’re not a fan of Capote, you might still enjoy the history of the Chicago World’s Fair.
As a side note, have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I’ve been trying to read it for over a week, but I keep losing interest. I think the dragging on may be part of his style and important to the book, but I’m not sure I can finish it. What do you think, should I hang in there, or move on to the next book?
Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Vintage Books, 2004.