by Molly McConnell
This is not a book I would have picked up or known about had I not been reading through Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime
– a stellar list. Different stories are woven together into a single narrative, each chapter chronicling a different facet of life in Chicago before and during the first World’s Fair in America. The characters chosen – Daniel H. Burnham, an architect, and H.H. Holmes, a businessman of sorts – are presented objectively but also with humanity. The reader, despite the realism and factual aspects of the story, can feel a kinship with them and can experience a sort of connection with them, no matter how treacherous they might turn out to be. Both Burnham and Holmes encounter struggles of their own sorts, but the two men also share an ambition to succeed and attain their vision. Larson does a tremendous job here of incorporating facts and historical citations while also weaving those into a narrative. Even if at first the stories are seemingly unrelated or random, they begin to pluck details from each other, showing the reader small ways in which the entire city was connected by one immense event. The writing itself is also quite good, making for an enjoyable read for the language and sentences written. This is a book whose nonfiction label will be questioned after reading, because the stories are so artfully told and are so grand that they can’t possibly be true – but they are.
by Merianna Harrelson
I wish I hadn’t read this book because I wish I didn’t know this story of what went on behind the scenes of the Chicago’s World Fair. Even more so, I wish I hadn’t been able to so easily relate the characters that Larson brought to life. It would have been wonderful to continue to believe that the Chicago World’s Fair was a time of celebration of human ingenuity and the way the world was changing, but Larson reminds us that there is always another story behind the story we have been told. Larson reminds us that people aren’t always who they seem. After reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder what the real story was to some of the historic events I understand. Read this book and be reminded there is always more to the story and the person.