Cross-posts from Yahoo Cafe Libri (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cafelibri):
I've only read about a quarter of the book but I find the parallel treatment of Daniel Burnham and H. H. Holmes annoying.Â I realize that if Holmes were
excluded the Devil would beÂ missing or would, at least, go unnamed.Â I would have rather had the story of the creation of the world's fairÂ unadorned. Â I
wonder what motivated Larson to include the Holmes story.Â Did he throw in the story to promote sales?Â I understand Holmes was drawn to Chicago by the fair but is Holmes a significant part of the story?
The purpose of the two stories are to show the society in which Holmes lived.
It is not a true crime book, It is an anthological study. It shows how society was changing. It was this change that allowed these types of crimes and
criminals to flourish. It tries to answer the question of what allowed something like this to happen.
Crime evolves and mirrors society. Some theorists feel the draw of celebrity has taken the focus off community. People used to know what was
going on with each and every person on there street. The talk of the famous made it less likely you would ask someone what became of the new girl
It was written this way to give the whole picture of where Holmes came from.
You've defended the book so eloquently and well, I can't add anything much except to say that without the Holmes part of the story the book would have
read more like a history book, albeit a fascinating and informative one. By combining it with Holmes's crimes, it became more like a novel. That said, having read it a few months ago, when I think back on it, I almost forget that there was a serial killer involved in the story. I found the fair history so interesting that the crimes became just one small part of the book for me.
I agree completely. I read the book some time ago, and what I remember is the profound sense of place and time. The author let you fee you were a part of history, and let you escape to another place and time.
That still doesn't tell me what the Holmes story has to do with the creation of the fair.
I suppose it is reasonable that the anonymity of city life would make it possible for someone to disappear without notice.Â But for a person who
socialized easily it would be possible that the entire block would be concerned. Different strokes.
I thought it to be a pandering distraction.
Holmes was able to exploit the fair to obtain his victims. The suggestion is that without the fair, he might not have been able to do the things he did.
In a city, it is possible for people to disappear unnoticed, and since they had no electronic communication or records, it was possible for people to disappear completely almost without notice or concern.
I agree, different strokes, but for me, the story would not have been nearly as interesting without the juxtaposition of Holmes and Burnham. Good and evil existing side by side, and all that.
That's an interesting approach to the book. It would seem then that the story was more about Holmes than the fair. Without the fair there would be no Holmes but the fair would have gone on well and better without him. Or to say the same thing differently, Larsen could not tell Holmes' story without the including the fair but could well have told the story of the fair without mention of Holmes.
Had I realized that I may not have opened the cover. Perhaps that explains my disappointment.
Jeffery, I have to disagree with you. It sets up a picture of the community from which the behavior devoloped.
An example I can think of is in regards to the Sambouras in Kenya. Currently they are involved in a struggle with an oil company that wants their land. Any story of the tribes life currently would bare consequences of what was happening.
The crime rate in the tribes have increased. The death rate is increased. The things the families must do is changed. If I just wrote about. Anthropology is the study of society. Could one write about what life in the tribe is about without showing what is happening in the world to make life that way?
It's certainly an interesting discussion but I may not correctly understand your description of the relationship between the social and economic history of the fair and the crime story of Holmes' murders.
Are we saying that the Chicago fair increased the crime rate in the city? Should we conclude that this is case study demonstrating that an event which draws tourists into a city over a series of days will lead to an increase in crime? Should we expect, for example, that this would be a feature of every Olympic Games event? I have no idea if that is correct but it is an interesting thesis and is something that should be included in event planning if that is the case.
I did a brief internet search to try to understand the case referenced in the reply but did not come across anything. From what little I saw I didn't see that it had any relationship with Nairobi or Mombasa. Possibly I don't understand the connectionÂ that is being made. I would suppose that there are points of intersection between an industrial development in a rural area that would transform tribal life. I just don't see those points of intersection replicated in the story about the development of Chicago and one mentally unbalanced transplant who moves there and uses that development to cultivate his own obsession. In the tribal case there are multiple points of intersection. Both stories could not meaningfully be told separately. But an accountÂ of the
fair could be told better without the diversion of the Holmes story. A true crime story involving the Holmes' atrocities could not be told without an
account of the Chicago World Fair, I get that. But the Holmes case was not necessary either as a cause of the fair or, in my opinion, a necessary consequence of the fair. The Holmes story was tangential to the development not integral. There could be a statistical connection but for me, as a reader, that correlation doesn't build a bridge between the two stories. I don't see, feel or touch the bridge as I am reading the book.
So, Jeffrey, you see the crime story as an attempt by the author to sell more books?
No, I don't think we are suggesting that the fair increased the crime
rate. Simply that the atmosphere that existed at that time, in that
place, resulted in the development of many things: the fair, the
murders, Ferris wheel, hamburger, picture postcards and who knows what
else. Sure, the stories could have been told separately. But that
would not have been as interesting as developing them in the same
story. I must not need the kind of bridge that you are looking for.
For me, it is fascinating to watch them both develop. In looking at
the issues you raised, I more or less accidentally looked at the
complete title of the book, which includes "murder, magic and madness
at the fair that changed America..." This is a telling of some of
that murder, madness and magic. My perspective is that murder,
madness and magic exist pretty much everywhere (some of the things
that are, for better or worse, part of the human condition), and this
is a microcosm of both. All three are affected by the environment,
and what a setting the author has found in the fair. Burnham
certainly has his flaws, and the development of the fair was riddled
with all-too-human flaws. That is part of what I found interesting
and what made it a good read for me. Your view may be more literal
than mine, but your comments have certainly been thought provoking.
I just wish Larson had a stronger editor. Yes, the title rambles across the
landscape as does the book. Yes, human flaws ripple through the results of the
fair's development. In order to cover the digression into the murder story, we
don't get coverage of some of the antecedent events that may have had
consequences in the development of the fair. For example we get briefly told in
the introductory elements of the book about a hotel that Burnham's company
designed which collapsed while still under construction. We are told the
collapse was investigated but then we are not told of the cause of the collapse
or of the result of the inquiry. Was there a design flaw? Was the construction
not properly supervised? Was there a failure to assess risk, a lack of
communication? Did whatever caused the failure have any relationship with
problems that arose in the fair project? I'm only about one third into the book;
being disappointed in it so far
as meant my attention has gone elsewhere. Perhaps Larson will return to this.
Where are the strong editors? Has there been a golden age of publishing and has
it come and gone?
Final post by Jeffrey:
Well, to be truthful, it is difficult for me to understand why we are being told
the two stories together. That was my first thought on the subject.
Rabeo's thesis raises a second possibility. In his view, if I am expressing it
correctly, this is not about the Chicago world's fair as much as it is about the
Holmes crimes. The fair aitches itself to the Holmes story as context. The
fair is a background story about the social conditions that allowed Holmes
concealment and provided him with victims. Limitations of police work, forensic
science, manpower in a city bent upon economic development and lack of concern
with the underclass, the lumpen proletariat as Marx saw it, made the scope of
his crimes possible. I was mislead by reviews into the mistaken belief that
Larson was more of a historian then a popular writer. Rabeo and Lauren may well
be correct, that the focus is upon Holmes. Bekah has found the locus of the
book to follow the direction of Compote's In Cold Blood. Sadly, I may have been
reading the book for the wrong reasons.