Have you read The Devil in the White City? That was a trick question, because if you haven’t, you shouldn’t still be reading these mediocre words when you could be reading that instead. It’s a fantastic non-fiction book by Erik Larson, and hit all the bestseller lists back in 2003, so chances are you’ve seen its cover if you’ve walked through an airport in the last decade.
What makes the book so good isn’t just that it tells the story of America’s first modern serial killer and the house he constructed full of secret rooms and trap doors and acid baths in which he disposed of a still uncertain number of women. It’s also not so good just because it tells the story of the construction of Chicago’s World Fair and the birth of modern skyscraper building.
It’s so good because it manages to combine those two incredibly different topics into a synthesized account of the the birth of the modern world, both with its wonders and its horrors. It reads like a novel, just as the best takes on history do.
In any case, film rights for the book have been floating around for years, auctioned off and then expiring repeatedly. Larson’s made more money from people wanting to make the movie then most authors ever see from people making their books into movies. It’s a testament too to just how unique a take Larson’s book was on the subject matter that anyone is bidding for film rights at all. Hundred-thirty year old history is in the public domain after all.
DiCaprio and Scorsese are the latest to jump on the train, with DiCaprio slated to play Holmes, which is a sort of delightfully evil turn for him to attempt to take. And with a director like Scorsese I’m more confident that they’ll at least try to capture the themes of the book rather than just making it about a serial killer. The story deserves that additional depth.