The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson

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To what extent is Larson highlighting technology as a marvel to be celebrated in The Devil in the White City?

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"To what extent" questions are always tricky because they require one to make a comparative judgement--more or less than something you choose as the norm or the standard. In The Devil in the White City, the celebration of technology is the third marvel in the story. First, the Chicago World's Fair is an accomplishment of sheer will and perseverance by Daniel Burnham. He overcomes obstacles from both man and nature and perseveres in an overwhelmingly amazing way. The fact that the Fair happened at all is the first marvel. The second, and almost equal, element is a marvel at the other end of the spectrum. Henry Holmes manages to orchestrate horrific acts, representing the very worst of human nature, in virtually the same arena as the best the world has to offer. More than thirty million people visit the city, and Holmes does not get caught until the end. This is their story, and the technology cannot compete with that. The technological advancements are, indeed, marvelous; however, they are a celebration of the spirit of ingenuity more than a revelation about human nature, which is what we get as we examine the contrast between the two men.

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