Thursday, August 31, 2006

Good Rainy Weather Reading Material

In an effort to lighten the mounting political tension, I present a diversion.

The Seminole Heights Bookgroup met this month to discuss "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. Referencing the subtitle of the book, it recalled "murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America." It was a fascinating description of life in Chicago surrounding the building of America's first World's Fair in the late 1800's. The author did a phenomenal job sifting through documents to piece together this spell binding tale. It's a work of nonfiction and he seemed to have pure intentions to create accurate portrayals of people and incidents.

Larson wove together the lives of Daniel Burnham, the chief architect who managed the fair project, and Harry Holmes, the serial killer who created a World's Fair Hotel simply to lure young women as prey. Mingled in the mix were the lives of other famous architects, landscape architect, Frederick Olmsted, Mayor Carter Harrison, and his eventual killer, Patrick Pendergast.

Many of the ideas that were developed for the fair changed the lives of Americans, like DC generated electricity, eight hour work days, and city planning. The Ferris Wheel, Disney World, The Wizard of Oz' Emerald City, Cracker Jacks, hamburgers, fair midways, and PT Barnum's circus also sprang from this event. So many interesting and influential people were alive at this time, Mark Twain, Susan B Anthony, Buffalo Bill, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller and Nikola Tesla, to name a few. Many of them visited the fair. In fact, a third of the population of the United States came to the fair, despite the burden of a growing depression. What Chicago created was a magical city that became a beacon of light to people who were living tragic lives.

The evil character in this book, Harry Holmes was described as an intelligent, charismatic man with keen powers of persuasion. It wasn't hard to compare him to modern day serial killers. Someone brought to mind the question "Are people born who are inherently evil?" This book leaves us pondering that, as well as marveling at man's ability to create impossible dreams.


Anonymous said...

Ok is this an open book thing
I am relativly new here?

Is this sorta like Oprah's book circle?

Bloggerwife said...

The Seminole Heights Bookgroup meets once a month to discuss member selected books, fiction and non fiction. You can check out the website from the link on this blog under Seminole Heights Links. I posted a recap from our latest discussion because the blogmaster thought it was such an interesting book. The website has a list of past and future book reads. We're open to new members if you care to join us!