The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson
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On Pages 27-28 of the novel Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, what historical reference is discussed? What does that Historical reference mean?

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Page 28 has a very detailed account of the social historical record of just how the city grew "dirtier, darker," dangerous. Larson gives vivid, detailed account of the air quality, a "miasma" filled with charcoal bits; the neglected animals, left dead where they fell, season after season; the horrific din...

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Page 28 has a very detailed account of the social historical record of just how the city grew "dirtier, darker," dangerous. Larson gives vivid, detailed account of the air quality, a "miasma" filled with charcoal bits; the neglected animals, left dead where they fell, season after season; the horrific din of noise from the metal-clad wheels of carriages, trains and grip-cars. Larson makes the socio-historical point that those who could, fled to out lying places like the "village" of Evanston where their children could grow up with actual air to breathe instead of coal-laden air. Larson recounts how publisher Paul Lindau called Chicago a "peep-show of utter horror." These descriptions are extremely important historic references of socio-historical magnitude.

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In addition to the previous answers, I would suggest that a historical reference is made to the expansion of Chicago which, ultimately, got out of hand. As with many big cities who expand quickly, not all things happening were positive. The rapid building of skyscrapers and businesses proved to be hard on the city.

As the firm grew, so did the city. It got bigger, taller, and richer; but it also grew dirtier, darker, and more dangerous.


Essentially, many cites which expand like Chicago did, not all things are pleasant. Instead, with the good (being richer) came the bad (danger). 

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Since the book takes place in such a historically important time and place, there will always be something.  One reference that I noticed from this section is to Burnam and Root, the architectural firm.  

Success came easily to Burnam and Root...

They were a famous agricultural company.  They worked on coordinating the World's Fair and established a name for themselves, and then used their reputation to build fabulous mansions for the wealthy meat packing industry executives.  Root’s buildings were the early predecessors to skyscrapers.  The Rand McNally Building built in 1889 was essentially the world’s first skyscraper.

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There is much less in the way of historical references in these pages than in the pages you asked about in your last post.  The only historical reference that I can see is where Larson quotes the French editore Octave Uzanne, who calls Chicago a "Gordian city."

This is presumably a reference to the Gordian Knot.  This was a knot that had been tied to a pole in Gordium in what is now Turkey.  Whoever could undo the knot was supposed to be destined to rule all of Asia.  Alexander the Great undid it by cutting it with his sword.

Something that is Gordian, then, is twisted and convoluted and difficult to understand or undo, just as the knot was.

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