Saturday, March 27, 2010

Now This is a Preface!

One of the advantages I have over my seminarian friends is that I get to read stuff that isn't distinctly theological (I just like to rub that in). For example, I've just started reading an historical novel by Erik Larson called The Devil in the White City. Rather than explain what the book is about, I want to include a portion of the preface so that our readers can see how a real preface is supposed to be written...

IN CHICAGO AT THE END of the nineteenth century amid the smoke of industry and the clatter of trains there lived two men, both handsome, both blue-eyed, and both unusually adept at their chosen skills. Each embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized the rush of America toward the twentieth century. One was an architect, the builder of many of America’s most important structures, among them the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C.; the other was a murderer, one of the most prolific in history and harbinger of an American archetype, the urban serial killer. Although the two never met, at least not formally, their fates were linked by a single, magical event, one largely fallen from modern recollection but that in its time was considered to possess a transformative power nearly equal to that of the Civil War.
In the following pages I tell the story of these men and this event, but I must insert here a notice: However strange or macabre some of the following incidents may seem, this is not a work of fiction. Anything between quotation marks comes from a letter, memoir, or other written document...
Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow. In the end it is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.

All I want to know is...who would not want to read this book after such a preface!?


  1. As I sit here thinking over my notes, starts and stops for a preface due next month, I'm now effectively paralyzed. Thanks.

  2. Just plagiarize from Larson. He won't mind.

  3. I would not not want to read the book after that captivating preface!
    But because I am not as avid a reader as I should be, I might not read this book even though I would not want to not read the book.
    Maybe Mike and I could share it since it has builder/architect appeal.

  4. The builder/architect side of the book gets quite in depth. One of the most interesting things they talk about is how they created a layer of artificial bedrock on which the skyscrapers in Chicago could rest their incredible weight without sinking.

    The alternating chapters deal with H.H. Holmes; a man who created an entire hotel in which to murder and dispose of his guests. I haven't gotten to the macabre stuff yet, but it is quite fascinating to see the lengths he went through to build his hotel without any of the builders suspecting what he planned to use it for. So even in the chapters on the evil guy, there's still architectural appeal. What I'm saying is, it's a win-win if you're interested in architecture!


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