Pageviews last month

Monday, March 26, 2012

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

With this work of narrative historical nonfiction, author Erik Larson showcases American society and its customs during the late nineteenth century. The 1889 French Exposition Universel, featuring the newly-built Eiffel Tower, was a tough act to follow. But the United States was determined to outdo the French and show the world that we could surpass them in matters of culture and innovation. Chicago and New York each vied to be the host of the 1893 World’s Fair; amazingly Chicago was selected to receive the honor. The up and coming Chicago architectural firm of Daniel H. Burnham and John Root was chosen to be in charge of the design and construction of the fairgrounds, which included the creation of buildings, landscape design, and selection of the various exhibits. With time running short, construction troubles abounding, and committee members fighting among themselves it seemed unlikely that the fair would be completed on time, especially with the death of partner John Root early on. But through the labors of Daniel Burnham the fair was able to open on schedule.

At the same time another massive project sprang to life. Serial killer Herman Webster Mudgett, whose alias was Dr. H. H. Holmes, a man of some medical talents and much charm, and a bona fide psychopath, decided to move to Chicago to pursue his own interests of murder and dissection of human bodies. His victims were mostly young women on their own; they were less likely to be missed. Holmes constructed a hotel so that he could rent rooms to the fair visitors. Unbeknownst to all, this hotel also housed a gas chamber and a crematorium that were used in the murder of more than 200 people. Eventually Holmes was caught, tried and put to death.

Throughout the book, we get to meet a variety of well-known historical figures such as landscaping genius Frederick Law Olmsted (also the designer of Central Park), Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, George Washington Gale Ferris (the originator of the Fair’s greatest attraction , the Ferris Wheel), Thomas Edison, and more. Most importantly, we are able to visit a more innocent time in American history.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Victims: An Alex Delaware Novel

A grisly murder scene, the likes of which have never been seen by detective Milo Sturgis and psychologist Alex Delaware, is what starts off Jonathan Kellerman’s latest novel. The victim, a woman well known for her confrontational ways and loved by no one, was found dead of a broken neck; after which the killer skillfully removed all of her internal organs and left them on display. Was this murder a result of the victim enraging the killer, or was it the beginning of a serial killing spree or a continuation of one from long ago? The murder victims keep popping up and there aren’t any connections among them. The hunt leads Sturgis and Delaware to the past and a state mental hospital, now closed, yields the clues. With in-depth detective work, psychological insight and forensic investigation, the killer is captured; albeit leaving the duo feeling more regretful than triumphant about their success.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

In her analysis of personality types, author Susan Cain found that approximately one third to one half of all Americans is introverted, and that the others are extroverted. What is an introvert? Psychologist Carl Jung defines this person as “drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling”. What is an extrovert? This is the individual who is drawn “to the external life of people and activities”. But simple definitions don’t explain the complexity of these personality types and the need for both in our society. In the United States, where the extrovert is the ideal in the worlds of business, politics, law, religion, and more, the introvert often is denigrated. Yet Cain finds that introverts shine in creative activities such as the arts, sciences, inventions, etc. Introverts also can metamorphose into “pseudo-extroverts” when necessary in order to attain their goals. And just as American culture idealizes extroversion, societies in other countries differ in their introvert-extrovert makeup. European nations also lean towards extroversion; Asian nations towards introversion.

This book is in an easy-to-read format with many case studies and ending with fifty pages of annotated bibliographic notes. Susan Cain skillfully presents a wealth of information gathered from years of psychological studies and interprets it for the lay reader.