Book Review: The Devil in the White City

Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City intertwines the events leading to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with the actions of Dr. H. H. Holmes, a con man and serial killer who exploited the fair to access victims.

Mr. Larson does an incredible job contrasting Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer posing as a successful doctor and businessman. Both men are ruthlessly driven products of their time. Their single minded pursuit of success leads them to use/sacrifice others to achieve their goals. And although their methods are the same, it is only how society views the end result that differ.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but feel most readers are caught up in the Holmes story. And to be sure, Mr. Holmes ruthlessly pursued murder and profit. However, Daniel Burnham’s singular focus to, at least for a brief moment, make Chicago the focal point of the world, is nothing short of amazing.

A great read for both the historian and armchair detective

A Review of Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War

With his now classic work, Dreadnought, Robert Massie weaves together the political and military ambitions of Great Britain and Germany, creating an unrivaled historical narrative of both national and personal ambitions. These ambitions led to the naval arms race of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which then culminated in the carnage of World War I.

Beginning with Queen Victoria’s birth in 1837, Massie examines familial conflicts between the great houses of Europe. King George V, Kaiser William II of Germany, and Czar Nicholas II of Russia were cousins. Not just family rivals, these heads of state were also nationalistic opponents. Against this family background, we follow the machinations of historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Lord Fisher, Admiral von Tirpitz, Bernhard von Bulow, and Otto von Bismark. This time period is defined by nationalistic vanity, missed opportunities, and unintended consequences.

Although published in 1991, Dreadnought has withstood the test of time. Anyone with an interest in naval or colonial history should enjoy Dreadnought. I also recommend Dreadnought to those interested in technological innovation and its impact on warfare. Despite being written 26 years ago, Dreadnought is still in publication. Copies can also be found in libraries, or purchased from Amazon, eBay, and used bookstores.