"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Gilded Age




I recently read The Devil In The White City which takes place in Chicago before the turn of the century. It's the story of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the psychopathic serial killer who operated undetected outside the gates.  Larson expertly intertwines the true tale of two men: Daniel Barnham, the brilliant architect behind the legendary fair, and H.H .Holmes, the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death in his World's Fair Hotel he designed for murder.

It begins with the story of how Chicago beat out New York to build the World's Fair on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was a fair of invention which brought us numerous "firsts". George W. Ferris invented the wheel specifically for the fair as an answer to France's Eiffel Tower. But his was unlike any you see today. Each of his cars held 60 passengers! Can you imagine the genius of constructing such a structure on time with less than a year to do it and then operating it safely? Dozens of other now famous American staples on a smaller scale were also introduced: Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit, and Shredded Wheat, just to name a few. The first skyscaper was built after the invention of what made that possible: the elevator.  Chicago was experiencing explosive growth and as land values rose, the sky beckoned.

I found this to be an amazing story that reads like a novel. It was amazing to me how the rise of  labor unions and a 40-hr work week coincided with the pressure to complete these immense buildings and elaborate exhibits on a tight timetable. And all the while, underneath the glitter and excitment and invention, the chilling activites of H.H. Holmes ran unabated like the River Styx through the underworld.

No one is alive today who knew anyone with first hand knowledge of the fair. It's through the meticulous research of books such as this that the amazement lives on and credit is given to those who got us to where we are today.

Five Stars!

8 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

Wow, thanks Yvonne. This sounds like an awesome book. I'll put it on my list.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Anne,
It was. I had it for a couple of years before I read it. I don't know why. Then after a few pages I couldn't put it down. Glad you liked my review:)

Steven J. Wangsness said...

Sounds very interesting, thanks. I'm re-reading The Iliad for some unfathomable reason, and if I ever get through it, maybe I'll give the book a try.

Liza said...

Wow...this does sound amazing. It is amazing to think how far we've come.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Steven,
After The Illiad White City will seem a breeze! I think you would like it.

Liza,
I know. That's what I couldn't get over. And I wonder if we could even find people today who could accomplish something so grand in such a short amount of time.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - sounds like a fascinating and intense story line with lots of intriguing info! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wow. So much came out of those original World Fairs. Thanks for sharing this.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Jemi,
Thanks!

Tricia,
You're welcome. I'm glad I read it. I learned so much about "The Gilded Age".