MONDAY

By the early 1890s, Chicago was America’s second-largest town. But natives of the Windy City still endured the sneers of civilized East Coasters, who saw them as a race of hog-butchering savages. Eager to dispel its image as a cultural backwater, Chicago fought to host the World’s Fair of 1893, then made Daniel Hudson Burnham—the architect who built D.C.’s Union Station—director of works. The story of Burnham’s heroic efforts—which were bedeviled by labor troubles, tight schedules, and disasters both natural and man-made—to build the so-called “White City” is told with verve by Erik Larson in The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. Larson does a swell job of evoking the fair’s fantastic offerings, which included a 22,000-pound slab of cheese, the first Ferris Wheel—each of its 36 cars capable of carrying 60 passengers—and a giant U.S. map made of pickles. What’s more, he interweaves his history of the fair with a tale of another urban wonder: As Burnham was building the World’s Fair that would introduce Americans to Cracker Jack, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the zipper, serial killer H.H. Holmes was building his “World’s Fair Hotel,” in which he would introduce numerous young women to what doctors were just beginning to call “psychopathy.” With its tale of two Americans of uncommon energy and ability laboring toward very different ends at the same place and time, The Devil in the White City reminds us that good and evil often tread the same ground. Larson is in town at 7 p.m. Monday, March 3, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Michael Little)

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