I just finished reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Holy hell. It's an excellent and quite exciting story, all true, of the chief architect of the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, and of the mass murderer who lived (and killed) nearby. The two men themselves never intersect. The author writes of becoming fascinated by these two men and their drive to accomplish what they did.
A favorite character of mine was that of Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed [the original plan for] Central Park, Biltmore, and others. He had a keen eye and concept of downplay, of wanting to create subtle effects on viewers that they would be unaware of. He hated straight beds of flowers. He lectured that it was far better to under-decorate than to over-decorate, and is quoted as saying:
Let us be thought over-much plain and simple, even bare, rather than gaudy, flashy, cheap, and meretricious. Let us manifest the taste of gentlemen.Olmsted did his work into his seventies, often plagued with terrible toothache, melancholy, insomnia, and persistent noise in his ears.
[Devil in the White City, p196.]
Another enjoyable artifact of The Devil in the White City is the stories of various elements that are commonplace today that can be traced back to the world fair. Pabst Blue Ribbon's blue ribbon, for example, came from it being judged america's best at said fair.
I really enjoyed this book. This work by Larson, along with the works of William Langewiesche (who often does great writing for The Atlantic) have given me a renewed fascination for and appreciation of nonfiction writing.