by Erik Larson. Published by Vintage Books in 2003.
I had seen this book on the NY Times bestseller lists for a while, but after a glowing recommendation from my brother and sister-in-law (and the fact that they gave it to me for my birthday), it was time to read it. It is subtitled "Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America," and it does not disappoint. This nonfiction book reads like a novel (much like David McCullough's 1776 and John Adams). First there is the fair itself; conceived only a couple of years before the actual event, architects and planners raced to complete the buildings that would house the fair and struggled to outdo the Parisians and out-Eiffel Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) from the previous world's fair. (Interesting fact: the Ferris Wheel was invented for the event, but was originally much larger than the kind you see today at carnivals). Next is the "devil" himself, H.H. Holmes, a man whose names and aliases nearly outnumbered the women he killed. His psychological profile is terrifying yet fascinating. His murders were committed at a time when murder was virtually unthinkable; many victims' families simply thought that their loved ones had gone missing. Third is the background of an America that is rapidly modernizing. Many new inventions were coming to light (such as electricity--hee hee), cities were growing with the construction of skyscrapers, and women were going off by themselves to travel, live, and work in the big cities, away from the protection of family. All of these factors combine to make one interesting read.
PS. If you want to borrow it or any of the other books I post about, let me know!