If you're looking for a good book to start the summer with, I highly recommend Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America," which tells the fascinating story of the Chicago World's Fair (officially called the World's Columbian Exposition), which opened in the summer of 1893—a whopping 130 years ago. The book tells the parallel stories of the arduous creation of the World's Fair and the machinations of serial killer H. H. Holmes, who lured unsuspecting fair goers to his "murder castle," where he'd kill them and incinerate their bodies in the custom-built furnace he designed. The stories are captivating, and Larson's engaging writing makes this historical nonfiction a page-turner. It's the perfect true-crime summer thriller!
Penguin Random House Higher Education describes the book:
Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his "World's Fair Hotel" just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.
Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.
The Devil in the White City draws the reader into the enchantment of the Gilded Age, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.
If you want to see some terrific photographs of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, check out this collection at The Man on Five.