Archive for April, 2010

Review: The Devil in the White City

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City is a strange piece of alchemy.  It’s a history of two basically distinct occurrences in Chicago in the late nineteenth century – the Chicago World’s Fair and the emergence of America’s first serial killer.  Either one of these is a pretty fascinating topic, and Larson writes well enough to make either hypnotizing. It’s very difficult to understand how he makes the two accompany each other so well, especially when the narratives basically never touch.

Each side of the coin is well researched and presented accessibly, and the events are particularly diverting.  The World’s Fair was a major event in Chicago’s history – not to mention the world’s.  A broad cast of characters brought a series of wonders to the eyes of the world, and as with any undertaking of that scale, the stories of how the magic happened is at least as diverting as what happened.

On the other side, Larson details the ruthless murders of tens of women by a man who seems to have killed simply for the enjoyment of doing so.  He also defrauded a series of people to finance his murder spree, but doesn’t seem to have been motivated primarily by material gain.  The story is gripping and detailed.

These are two great stories to tell, and in Larson’s capable hands I’d be delighted to read either one.  What really amazes me is how well they compliment each other.  Larson tells each in parallel, with a few chapters or sections of one story giving way to the other.  Because the two don’t interact Larson can choose how to pace them.  I was continually surprised by how often I’d come to a switch between one storyline or the other and be initially perturbed at being interrupted only to get sucked back into the other almost immediately.  To tell one history that well is impressive; to weave two together is amazing.

Strongly recommended.

Review: I Drink For A Reason

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

David Cross’s I Drink For A Reason is a collection of short essays that cover a wide range of topics with a humorous tone.  That describes a lot of books, and the execution completely determines the quality of the reading experience.  For me, this was not a great experience, but not awful either.

Cross has an acerbic delivery of some reasonable thinking, but nothing the left me with lasting impressions.  I take that back, I thought his essay on breaking up was something special.  Everything else was diverting enough, but fairly light.  An enjoyable book to spend some time with , but pretty insubstantial.

One more review on the old site

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

I know I said I was moving these, but I had forgotten one more book I read last year, Wil Wheaton’s Memories of the Future. I’ve put up a short review on Bell, Book, and Candle.


Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Some long overdue reviews up on Bell, Book and Candle.  Specifically reviews of The Last Founding Father and Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  These will be the last reviews posted to BBC directly.  Further reviews, including all the stuff I’ve read this year to date, will be blogged directly.  So you have that to look forward to.