The Chicago World's Fair, 1893.
What I found most interesting, however, was how the book was written. As someone who went to college for journalism, I tend to read things in two ways - to enjoy in the story and the characters, and to in some way decipher or theorize how the writer put it all together. This book was particularly fascinating because it was journalistic - Erik Larson put together the histories of two men and one world event of the 1890s not only through newspaper research, but through diaries, letters, and other personal belongings. These personal writings served as the most incredible testaments to the times and these men; a letter the lead architect wrote to his wife while he was away showed how stressed he was, but also how much he was looking forward to seeing her. The words would be considered quaint today, but Larson points out that his sentiments were racy enough to "steam the envelope open" in its own time.
And, of course, this isn't the first time letters have been used to gain insight into a person's life and thoughts. However, I can't remember the last time I've written a letter detailing my life and sent it to someone. Instead, I have (we all have) e-mail, blogs, twitters, and those pesky social networking sites. We have expanded the sources of our personal thoughts and they are all available at one place: a computer. So, in the chance that I do something remarkable or brilliant or even something that turns out to be infamous - one needn't wonder about the person I actually was, because it's all here. On this blog, in my e-mails to my friends, and displayed and updated nearly daily. There's no mystery to me, and maybe that makes me considerably un-interesting, but any good writer could weave a shocking tale full of foreshadowing of "the events she was to face later in life."
You know, whatever. Dramatization. Soap opera. You can do it with everything, especially the internet. And to Larson, some steamy letters from 1892. The letter-writers and diary-keepers of the 1800s are the e-mailers and bloggers of the present.