The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (Larson) – This book is about The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and centers on the lives of two men—one, the master architect of the fair, who built and created magnificent things and, the other, a serial killer who wantonly destroyed life and tore apart the worlds of his victims and their families. The book alternated between the two and, let’s face it, I found myself racing through the architect’s story to find out what happened next with the sociopathic murderer and his victims. I will say that, by the end of the book, I found both parts to be equally interesting. The Chicago World’s Fair was truly an incredible phenomenon that changed world’s impressions of the U.S., and definitely Chicago, and it also showcased new inventions that left lifelong impressions on people who attended the fair, including fantastic displays of electric lights, commonplace things like shredded wheat, and the wildly popular Ferris Wheel. I thought the juxtaposition of the killer and the architect had a powerful effect. As I said above, one man created and one destroyed. Also, as the author himself states in the back of the book, he was intrigued how pride fueled all of the main players in this story. It’s a very interesting book, and also a very dark book. The first and final murders are the only ones that are written about in detail and were difficult to read. The victims were unassuming, helpless people who fell prey to the worst kind of horrific evil. If you can stomach it, this book is worth reading and fascinating.
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (Millard) – I enjoyed Millard’s book about James Garfield a lot. So when I learned she wrote one about Theodore Roosevelt’s post-presidential journey exploring unchartered territory on the Amazon, I was eager to read it. Millard does a great job sifting through a mound of historical details and painting a vivid picture of a cross section of history. I really was intrigued to learn more about the character and personality of Roosevelt and what it would have been like to navigate a hostile, unexplored, virtually unknown jungle. In an age where one can whip out her smart phone and instantly view a satellite image of any part of the world she wants, it is especially intriguing to think about. The descriptions of the jungle, river and exotic wildlife were very interesting to me. Millard also vividly portrays the desperation, humanity and fortitude of the men as they encounter one setback after another. This book is a worthwhile read.
The Theory of Everything (Hawking) – This book consists of three lectures given by the famed English physicist, Stephen Hawking. Sometimes when I see an interesting movie preview, I look to see if there’s a book. Well, The Theory of Everything movie is apparently based on Hawking’s ex-wife’s memoir, not the book with the same title. Oh well! Once I started reading these lectures, they held my interest, though I don’t pretend that I could entirely wrap my layperson’s mind around everything that was presented. I did find it interesting that Hawking, although an atheist, leaves room for a Creator in his theories. Hawking’s black hole theories boggle my mind, and it was fascinating to read about how our universe is not static, and the fact that there may well be many more universes beyond our own. The point is that there is still so much more to discover. We are indeed finite in our understanding, but I was intrigued to read from a man who has spent many years thinking and asking questions about our universe.