Chicago during the Gilded Age was quite the place to be. You had the usual accoutrement of the haves and the have-nots when the wealthy were dining on caviar and champagne and the poor were barely surviving with little if any in between. It was also a time of great unrest, society was undergoing a great upheaval. People were moving en mass from the rural areas, especially young unattached women, unions were becoming increasingly vocal and powerful, and crime was around every corner. It's only fitting that two culture shifting events should occur then during this time of great change - The World's Fair and the appearance of America's first serial killer, H.H. Holmes.
Erik Larson did a fantastic job of bringing Chicago at the turn of the century to life. He made the reader feel a part of the excitement that coursed through the city when it was selected to host the World's Fair in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World. The unraveling of the horror and mystery behind H.H. Holmes' depravity was also top-notch. Though non-fiction, this book was written in such a manner that it more often felt like I was reading a fictional novel than the history of Chicago. I learned quite a bit about Chicago that I never knew, as well as the story behind some of our greatest inventions. It's inspired me to learn more about this era.
Of course the novel wasn't perfect. For me, the most glaring problem was when he would randomly interject information that really had nothing to do with the Fair or the murders. At least two times that I recall him mentioning Lizzie Borden. While these occasions of straying from the narrative and the history were brief, often just one or two sentences they felt misplaced and jarring. In the end though, they didn't deter much from the book and like many others, I highly recommend this book.