Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed reading this book and it did hold my interest all the way through. But if a person, who never has read a non-fiction book before in his entire life wants to try this genre out, would ask me, if this is the book he should read, I would say no. There are other non-fiction-books out there that I enjoyed more and there is one flaw that annoyed me while reading this book.
Larson tells two stories at once, the first one being the story of Daniel Burnham and his pursuit to create the World´s Columbian Expostion in Chicago in the shortest amount of time. In these chapters the main focus heavily lies on topics as architecture, landscaping, economics and the overall problems, that have occured throughout the making of the fair. That may sound like a dry read, but I enjoyed these chapters, because they gave me a glimpse of life in America in the 1890s.
The second story that Larson is telling is the story about H.H. Holmes. Holmes has been one of Americas known first serial killers, who supposedly has killed about 200 people during the world fair in his elaborate hotel, which he purely has designed to kill people and make them disappear. And I have to admit, Holmes scared the living daylights out of me, merely by being present on the pages. A serial killer, who almost can do as he likes, who is capable of talking his way out of everything and victims, who simply vanishes from the face of the earth, never to be seen again ... Yes, I would have preferred a book with its main focus being solely on Holmes and his wrongdoings.
And that is my gripe with this book. These two stories barely have a connection with each other. As a matter of fact the only connection is the World fair and the time Holmes has choosen for his killing spree. Holmes killings doesn´t have an impact on the world fairs outcome or success and this book actually read like to separate narratives combined in one book. Each story for itself is interesting, but they suffer when told in juxtaposition. This doesn´t turn Larsons story into a bad book, but it kept me from liking it more than I did.
And just to give you a general sense of Holmes and his creepy thinking, a quote by Holmes himself:
I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.