I read Devil in The White City recently and LOVED it! I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a fleeting interest in history and/or true crime. I learned about Chicago and its coming of age as a stockyard city to a tourist attraction. I also learned about the nut job serial killer H.H. Holmes one of the first documented sociopaths who defied previous definitions of a murderer because there was no implicit motive in many of his murders, even though he did receive financial gain, their method was most bizarre. But above all I learned a lesson about the way people thought then and the way people (read: me) think now.
Daniel Burnham and John Root had been partners and architects in Chicago years before they began organizing the building of what would become known as the World's Columbian Exposition. They had a close friendship. Before the construction of the fair actually got underway John Root contracted pneumonia and died. In the few weeks Root was sick Burnham was constantly at his bedside missing critical time to plan for the fair that already had an unrealistic deadline. I found myself thinking... 'Are you serious? Get back to planning. The guy is dying, you can't do anything there.'
This attitude made me think... what IS important? How do I spend my time? In the larger sense the Columbian Exposition, while pretty cool, wasn't that important in the grander scheme of things. The relationships that we build and maintain are what show us the type of people that we are and where our priorities lie. I would guess that few of today's CEOs would ignore their work if a fellow CEO were ill and bedridden in order to stay at his (yeah, his, no political correctness here, just grammar correctness) bedside. When did this shift occur? When did transient materials become more important than people, to me personally and to society in general? Daniel Burnham, in his way, knew that architecture was steel and stone and fleeting. The site of the World's Columbian Exposition no longer remains. The 'white city' that was conceived in the minds of the greatest architects of that day burnt to the ground. But you can bet that relationship between Burnham and Root DID weather time, distance, and even death because in the end THAT is what was important.