Let's just put it out there that I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction. My book-club makes me do it once in a while. This book? It's actually two non-fiction books. Goody! (or not).
There are two stories, operating side by side, almost in the same time and almost in the same space.
The first is all about the World's Columbian Exposition (aka the Chicago World's Fair) and the second is about H. H. Holmes/H. Mudgett, one of America's first documented serial killers.
If the book were just about the World's Fair, I would have rated it another star. Surprisingly, I found this part of the book fascinating and the (sometimes seriously immature) drama behind how the World's Fair came to be and how it got built was very interesting. The people involved, the innovations that happened and how many ideas, imagery, people, and products shaped so much of America's life today was just amazing.
Then there was the serial killer storyline. I kept waiting... and waiting... and waiting for these two stories to somehow intersect or become more involved with each other; I could not comprehend why an author would throw these totally different, unrelated stories together. It's like the author wanted to write about the Fair, and his publisher demanded he put something seedy in there just so the book would sell more copies.
I also felt like the author was more invested in the World's Fair stories. Most of the book is about it (the chapters do not strictly alternate), and the passion seemed to be there. Once I gave up on trying to figure out how/when/where the two subjects would intersect, I could sit back and enjoy the Fair parts. The chapters about Holmes don't contain anything I hadn't already learned from a 45 minute documentary.
I did appreciate the novelization of this non-fiction account. I have no doubt there is a bit of speculation in the story, but it made it much more enjoyable than a dry account; as always, I appreciated the annotations and bibliography the author included at the end.
Architecture/Chicago's World Fair story? 3 stars. Easily.
H. H. Holmes? 1-2 stars. I was bored and completely un-invested.