This was a neat book. I like how he intertwined the stories. I had no idea this World Fair had influenced so many things. The passages about Holmes though really frightened me like straight up gave me nightmares. It wasn't graphic super graphic it was just that those things really happened and that was just scary. Especially because everyone around him was so naive and he was in a perfect place where people weren't really paying enough attention to crime or though so little of the cops they didn't bother to report it.
On the flip side the architecture stuff wasn't kind of dry to me until they really got to shaping up the park.
Anyone else read this one?
I have read a number of Erik Larson books and enjoyed them all. He writes popular non-fiction books and reminds me the most of books by Simon Winchester and Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. He often finds a particular person and focuses on that person's story (In the Garden of the Beasts focused on the life of the wild daughter of the last American ambassador to Germany before WWII, based on her diary; Isaac's Storm focused on the meteorologist who failed to anticipate the huge hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900). Usually it works; sometimes it feels forced, but still fun to read.
This particular book does not focus on one particular person and is better for it. Larson alternates chapters between the preparation and departure of the Lusitania and the preparation and departure of the U-boat that sunk it. We get to know both of their captains as well as many of the people on board the Lusitania. It's a bit of a painful read--the alternating chapters bring us closer and closer to the end we all know. And of course, once you've gotten to "know" someone, having them die in the sinking is sad. And a lot of people died.
It's interesting to see what decisions contributed to the sinking (including some decisions about speed and whether or not to have an escort and some design decisions that ended up being terrible). But I think Larson ends up making too much of the decisions. He comes close to arguing that the Admiralty did it on purpose so that American lives would be lost and the United States would come into the war sooner. I'm not convinced by that argument, but I've noticed that these kinds of arguments have started to appear more frequently in non-fiction books. I think Winchester's book on Krakatoa somehow tied the eruption to modern-day terrorism. The authors never seem to fully believe their arguments, so I'm afraid they are just required to make their work "relevant," which I don't think is necessary. Fortunately, I enjoy the books without that element. And this is one I ended up enjoying (except for the sad outcome) very much.