The Devil In The White City is the factual account of incidents that occurred in Chicago at the end of the Nineteenth Century, an industrialized age of hope and possibility. Many of the incidents in the book are taken from documents produced at the time and diligently researched by the book's author, Erik Larson.
Larson's original goal in life was to be a cartoonist with New Yorker magazine but a succession of rejected cartoons persuaded him that writing was a more viable career. Larson studied Russian at the University of Pennsylvania then attended graduate school at Columbia, winning a job as a writer with the Wall Street Journal. However the publication's bread and butter factual news items did not interest him and Larson discovered both a passion and a gift for researching deeply into subjects, writing behind the headline articles that led to his first book.
This passion and respect for in-depth research is evident throughout the book as he shares with us the contents of long-forgotten documents that paint a dark and terrifying picture of the underbelly of the glistening white city of Chicago. It is the story of two men who never met in person but whose indelible stamp is firmly imprinted onto Chicago's history. Both men are skilled in their chosen crafts, leaders in their field. One, a gifted architect, who would go on to design some of America's most important buildings, including Union Station in Washington D.C. and the Flatiron Building in New York, was one of the pioneers of the Worlds Fair in Chicago. This mammoth enterprise brought hundreds of thousands of transient workers to the city, an influx which enabled the book's other primary character to go about his particular craft with surprising ease, avoiding detection. His craft was murder and at this savagery he was the best, quickly becoming one of America's most prolific serial killers before the term had been coined or popularized.
Despite never meeting the lives of both men were intertwined and in symbiosis with the Worlds Fair itself, as their success in their chosen fields was made possible by the quirk of fate that selected Chicago as the venue for the Worlds Fair.
This book is both an historical account of a series of events and a philosophical journey in search of answers to the question of why, when life is so short, do some people choose to fill their limited time here doing good whilst others choose to walk the path of evil. It is both gruesome crime thriller and sociological document that constantly contrasts good and evil, dark and light, and shows the vibrant city of Chicago as both the White City of good and promise and the Dark City where evil exists in the shadows.