Yes, it's a blog about reading.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

World's Fair and other stuff

The Devil in the White City, by Eric Larson

Well, I didn’t care much for this book, either the premise or the writing. Not that he’s a bad writer, I just hated the coy way he kept alluding to evil or disasters to come, “only Poe could have thought up the rest”, stuff like that. It got tedious after awhile. And, the story of the serial killer seemed grafted onto the more interesting World’s Fair story with the back-and-forth motif wearing thin rather quickly. It was as if he felt he needed the murderer to sell the rest of the story to us. On the contrary, the murderer’s tale could have been told much more succinctly. The fact that he couldn’t resist dragging in the Titanic disaster as well gave me the impression of someone without the discipline to edit his own work. On the other hand, the many famous characters who had something to do with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was fascinating and he did a good job of capturing the personalities and difficulties and what was at stake.  Some of the people involved or touched by the Fair:  Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, Theodore Dreiser (of course!), Frederick Law Olmstead, all the most famous architects of the day, even Mark Twain except that he came to Chicago, was ill, and spent the entire time in his hotel room, going home without even visiting the fair. As the author says, “of all people.” I especially loved the Ferris Wheel story – something so commonplace today, that was the centerpiece of the Fair and the invention to rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris (also built for a World’s Fair type exposition).  Another minor tidbit but even more fascinating was the fact that Walt Disney’s father was a carpenter or electrician who worked on the Fair. Now, that explains a lot! It explains a certain dated, fantastical yearning at the core of the Disney creations. It explains the whole fake, glamorous, pseudo-scientific soul of those worlds, worlds that Disney dragged forth from the previous century.


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