read: 22 January 2005
This book about the Columbia World’s Exposition in Chicago near the turn of the century reads like fiction but is actually all true. The author goes out of his way to include a list of footnotes at the end and tells the reader that any direct quote comes from primary source material. The story outlines two, almost three, tales at once: the creation of the fair in Chicago, creating a palatial spread of wonder and amazement from where there once was a lackluster park; the workings of a serial killer who lived right near the fair; and the assassination of the Mayor of Chicago.
Larson interweaves these stories with such skill that they all seem to balance and interact with each other. His descriptions of settings and characters are lush and thoughtful, even though he is describing many scenes and events that have been imperfectly left to history and has to do some speculative re-creation in order to fully flesh out his tales. The book is also chock full of weird bits of trivia about the fair, the people involved in the fair - most notably Frederick Law Olmstead, but there are also cameos by Teddy Roosevelt and Frank Lloyd Wright among others - which propels the stories alongs at times when nothing else of note is going on. If you’re a crime fiction buff, you may want to try out some crime non-fiction and see if you don’t learn something about the history of Chicago before you’re done.
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