While it reads like a gripping piece of fiction, master storyteller Erik Larson's book recounts the true tale of the landmark 1893 World's Fair held in Chicago. An astonishing feat, the World's Columbian Exposition, as the turn-of-the-century fair was known, marshaled visionaries in the form of architects, industrial captains, politicians, engineers, and others to produce an event that was prescient and generation-defining. Among other influences, it prefigured the modern-day theme park. Park fans will marvel at the birth of the Ferris wheel. (Bearing little resemblance to today's wheels, even the jumbo ones, the original ride was wildly ambitious. Each of its 36 cars cars held 60 passengers.)
The "Midway Plaisance" with its exotic attractions from around the world, the "White City" and its gleaming, cavernous exhibition halls, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the Wooded Island, and other features of the fair resonate today throughout the amusement industry. A fascinating aside: Among the army of laborers that built the fair was a carpenter and furniture-maker named Elias Disney who, undoubtedly, related the phenomenon to his son, Walt. Layered on top of the story of the exposition is the bizarre tale of serial killer H. H. Holmes who terrorized Chicago as the fair unfolded. A fascinating read.