The book tells the story behind the World Fair in Chicago in 1893. It alternates between two story lines: the one of the serial killer Holmes, and the one of the organizers of the fair with the architect Daniel Burnham as the protagonist. It is very well researched - see the impressive list of references at the back - which was a major attraction point for me. The author even clarifies which of the (few) elements in the story were unverifiable and thus pure fiction. Scientists will love this. The underlying research never gets in the way of the story though (hooray).
I was captivated by the look behind the scenes: how the Chicago won the organization of the fair, the subsequent delays in setting up an organizing team and the disasters during the building of the Fair's buildings and exhibitions. It shows how even those to be considered the best in their field don't realize major achievements without their deal of stress and problem solving (and being extremely pragmatic when deadlines come close). In fact, this book is a must-read for project managers and entrepreneurs alike.
As far as the killings of Dr. Holmes are concerned, a Belgian cannot help but see the striking parallels with the Dutroux case about 100 years later, such as building a house specifically designed to kill unnoticedly (remember Dutroux' cellar where he hid the little girls). Also the debate on the faulty functioning of the police force in the aftermath of the killings bears a close resemblance to the Belgian case. Some things never change.
If you're interested in Chicago, architecture and want to read an upbeat story on how sound ambition leads to landmark achievements (& how it doesn't come easy), read this book.