The White City (Minus the Devil)

This week, the Literary Blog Hop over at the Blue Bookcase asks:

What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit?

A difficult question, simply because there are so many possibilities.  After reading Erik Larson’s spectacular The Devil in the White City, I’d have to say that 1893 Chicago would be somewhere near the top of my list.  Without, you know, the serial killer skulking around.

I wrote in an earlier post about the grandeur of the 1893 World’s Fair and how the fair’s most recent incarnation, the 2010 Shanghai Expo, utterly failed in projecting even a modicum of the same.  Through Larson’s writing, the majesty of that pivotal event cannot but impress even the most jaded reader.

Granted, Larson also details the more sordid and grisly aspects of that day and age – this dichotomy between the resplendent and the sinister is the force which drives the narrative forward.  Still, the reader is most forcefully affected by the wonder and awe which the 1893 World’s Fair inspired in its visitors, a sense of wonder and awe that is difficult to even imagine in the age of frequent flying and instantaneous information.

Alas, time machines are in short supply.  Luckily for us, writers such as Larson can provide this sense of amazement through their writing.



  1. Fantastic choice! Larson’s 1893 Chicago is so vivid and alive, it’s hard not to not only see it clearly, but wish to see yourself there too.

    (Incidentally, when I saw your headline, I thought it was a pretty funny snow storm joke…)

  2. I’ve been meaning to read this book, and I think you’ve motivated me to make it more of a priority. It sounds very good. I chose Dublin, being a huge fan of Beckett and Joyce. 🙂

  3. Great pick. It’s funny to wonder if Chicago during the World’s Fair would be intersting even if you hadn’t read the book, or is reading the book what would make being there interesting?

  4. @Greg – haha, I had forgotten about the snow storm that just blanketed Chicago. That would have been a pretty clever title for a storm related post – wish I had thought of it!
    @Shannon – I’ve never read any of Joyce’s stuff. Ulysses has been on my TBR list for a very long time, but it’s an intimidating book. I’m not a huge stream-of-consciousness fan. One of these days, however, I’ll dive into it. Thanks for coming by!
    @Robyn – I’d have to imagine that seeing the White City in Chicago would have been fascinating regardless of having read the book or not. It must have been such an amazing sight.
    @Susuan – I’ve wondered whether a person from contemporary times would be able to appreciate the wonder of that World’s Fair or if we’ve all been too jaded. It’s an interesting thought…

  5. It would be nice if we could experience it fresh with none of todays preconceptions. In a way the idea reminds me of a Borges tale, where this character attempts to write Don Quixote, word for word allowing regardless of the time or despite the time that had passed since Cervantes wrote it.

      1. The tale is called Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote, & the book I have is a Penguin 20c classics called Labyrinths. As a fan of Steven Millhauser I can see you enjoying Borges writings, as I believe he was an influence on Millhauser.

  6. As a Chicagoan, I completely approve of your choice! I haven’t read this book yet-my book club tried to read Sin in the Second City and I was so bored that when I saw this one I couldn’t make myself pick it up. I mean really, how do you make a history of prostitution and white slavery in my own city boring?!? But I digress-even with two feet of snow on the ground Chicago is an amazing place to visit (but I’d still wait until June!)

    1. Hi Heather, I don’t know about Sin in the Second City, but this book won’t bore you. I have never actually been to Chicago (not counting a few airport stop-overs) but I’ll make it there one of these days!

  7. Hopping by from the Hop, and I am so excited to find another blog that reads nonfiction! I have walked by this book and “Thunderstruck” many times at the book store, and I think I put “Isaac’s Storm” back today too. I think you have convinced me an Erik Larson book is in order. I will ahve so much fun checking out your site!

  8. @laurelrainsnow – thanks for coming by!
    @Pam – Definitely get this book. I had it on my shelf for years before I finally got around to reading it. It’s most certainly worth it. Thanks for coming by, I’ve been looking for other blogs that read non-fiction as well (I am trying to do about 40-60 non-fiction/fiction ratio). I’ve bookmarked your site so I’ll be checking it out regularly!
    @myworldlyobsession – Isn’t it a great cover? What’s inside is even better. Hope that you enjoy it!

  9. This book has always sounded fascinating — if violent — and the very late 1800s and early 1900s are such an interesting time in this country for history, art, science. Everything changed so much at that time. I definitely mean to read this book. Enjoyed your post!

  10. @trisha – You’ll like it, it was on my TBR shelf for a long time before I got around to it.
    @curlygeek04 – That time in history is fascinating. This book really does a great job of epitomizing that time through the Chicago World’s Fair. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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