The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

by Erik Larson


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This New York Times bestseller intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. 

Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375725609
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/10/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 1,412
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.88(h) x 0.96(d)
Lexile: 1170L (what's this?)

About the Author

ERIK LARSON is the author of four national bestsellers: In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm, which have collectively sold more than 5.5 million copies. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and other publications and his books have been published in fourteen countries.


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

January 1, 1954

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York


B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; M.S., Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1978

Read an Excerpt

The Black City

How easy it was to disappear:

A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Many of these trains brought single young women who had never even seen a city but now hoped to make one of the biggest and toughest their home. Jane Addams, the urban reformer who founded Chicago's Hull House, wrote, "Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon the city streets and to work under alien roofs." The women sought work as typewriters, stenographers, seamstresses, and weavers. The men who hired them were for the most part moral citizens intent on efficiency and profit. But not always. On March 30, 1890, an officer of the First National Bank placed a warning in the help-wanted section of the Chicago Tribune, to inform female stenographers of "our growing conviction that no thoroughly honorable business-man who is this side of dotage ever advertises for a lady stenographer who is a blonde, is good-looking, is quite alone in the city, or will transmit her photograph. All such advertisements upon their face bear the marks of vulgarity, nor do we regard it safe for any lady to answer such unseemly utterances."

The women walked to work on streets that angled past bars, gambling houses, and bordellos. Vice thrived, with official indulgence. "The parlors and bedrooms in which honest folk lived were (as now) rather dull places," wrote Ben Hecht, late in his life, trying to explain this persistent trait of old Chicago. "It was pleasant, in a way, to know that outside their windows, the devil was still capering in a flare of brimstone." In an analogy that would prove all too apt, Max Weber likened the city to "a human being with his skin removed."

Anonymous death came early and often. Each of the thousand trains that entered and left the city did so at grade level. You could step from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. Every day on average two people were destroyed at the city's rail crossings. Their injuries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads. There were other hazards. Streetcars fell from drawbridges. Horses bolted and dragged carriages into crowds. Fires took a dozen lives a day. In describing the fire dead, the term the newspapers most liked to use was "roasted." There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. And there was murder. In the time of the fair the rate at which men and women killed each other rose sharply throughout the nation but especially in Chicago, where police found themselves without the manpower or expertise to manage the volume. In the first six months of 1892 the city experienced nearly eight hundred homicides. Four a day. Most were prosaic, arising from robbery, argument, or sexual jealousy. Men shot women, women shot men, and children shot each other by accident. But all this could be understood. Nothing like the Whitechapel killings had occurred. Jack the Ripper's five-murder spree in 1888 had defied explanation and captivated readers throughout America, who believed such a thing could not happen in their own hometowns.

But things were changing. Everywhere one looked the boundary between the moral and the wicked seemed to be degrading. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued in favor of divorce. Clarence Darrow advocated free love. A young woman named Borden killed her parents.

And in Chicago a young handsome doctor stepped from a train, his surgical valise in hand. He entered a world of clamor, smoke, and steam, refulgent with the scents of murdered cattle and pigs. He found it to his liking.

The letters came later, from the Cigrands, Williamses, Smythes, and untold others, addressed to that strange gloomy castle at Sixty-third and Wallace, pleading for the whereabouts of daughters and daughters' children.

It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root.

This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.

Reading Group Guide

National Book Award Finalist

“As absorbing a piece of popular history as one will ever hope to find.” —San Francisco Chronicle

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Erik Larson’s gripping account of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

1) In the note “Evils Imminent,” Erik Larson writes “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” [xi]. What does the book reveal about “the ineluctable conflict between good and evil”? What is the essential difference between men like Daniel Burnham and Henry H. Holmes? Are they alike in any way?

2) At the end of The Devil in the White City, in Notes and Sources, Larson writes “The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city’s willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor, a concept so removed from the modern psyche that two wise readers of early drafts of this book wondered why Chicago was so avid to win the world’s fair in the first place” [p. 393]. What motives, in addition to “civic honor,” drove Chicago to build the Fair? In what ways might the desire to “out-Eiffel Eiffel” and to show New York that Chicago was more than a meat-packing backwater be seen as problematic?

3) The White City is repeatedly referred to as a dream. The young poet Edgar Lee Masters called the Court of Honor “an inexhaustible dream of beauty” [p. 252]; Dora Root wrote “I think I should never willingly cease drifting in that dreamland” [p. 253]; Theodore Dreiser said he had been swept “into a dream from which I did not recover for months” [p. 306]; and columnist Teresa Dean found it “cruel . . . to let us dream and drift through heaven for six months, and then to take it out of our lives” [p. 335]. What accounts for the dreamlike quality of the White City? What are the positive and negative aspects of this dream?

4) In what ways does the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 change America? What lasting inventions and ideas did it introduce into American culture? What important figures were critically influenced by the Fair?

5) At the end of the book, Larson suggests that “Exactly what motivated Holmes may never be known” [p. 395]. What possible motives are exposed in The Devil in the White City? Why is it important to try to understand the motives of a person like Holmes?

6) After the Fair ended, Ray Stannard Baker noted “What a human downfall after the magnificence and prodigality of the World’s Fair which has so recently closed its doors! Heights of splendor, pride, exaltation in one month: depths of wretchedness, suffering, hunger, cold, in the next” [p. 334]. What is the relationship between the opulence and grandeur of the Fair and the poverty and degradation that surrounded it? In what ways does the Fair bring into focus the extreme contrasts of the Gilded Age? What narrative techniques does Larson use to create suspense in the book? How does he end sections and chapters of the book in a manner that makes’ the reader anxious to find out what happens next?

7) Larson writes, “The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck me as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions” [p. 393]. What such insights does the book offer? What more recent stories of pride, ambition, and evil parallel those described in The Devil in the White City?

8) What does The Devil in the White City add to our knowledge about Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham? What are the most admirable traits of these two men? What are their most important aesthetic principles?

9) In his speech before his wheel took on its first passengers, George Ferris “happily assured the audience that the man condemned for having ‘wheels in his head’ had gotten them out of his head and into the heart of the Midway Plaisance” [p. 279]. In what way is the entire Fair an example of the power of human ingenuity, of the ability to realize the dreams of imagination?

10) How was Holmes able to exert such power over his victims? What weaknesses did he prey upon? Why wasn’t he caught earlier? In what ways does his story “illustrate the end of the century” [p. 370] as the Chicago Times-Herald wrote?

11) What satisfaction can be derived from a nonfiction book like The Devil in the White City that cannot be found in novels? In what ways is the book like a novel?

12) In describing the collapse of the roof of Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building, Larson writes “In a great blur of snow and silvery glass the building’s roof—that marvel of late nineteenth-century hubris, enclosing the greatest volume of unobstructed space in history—collapsed to the floor below” [p. 196–97]. Was the entire Fair, in its extravagant size and cost, an exhibition of arrogance? Do such creative acts automatically engender a darker, destructive parallel? Can Holmes be seen as the natural darker side of the Fair’s glory?

13) What is the total picture of late nineteenth-century America that emerges from The Devil in the White City? How is that time both like and unlike contemporary America? What are the most significant differences? In what ways does that time mirror the present?

Customer Reviews

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1617 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
In 1893, Chicago was gearing up for its shining moment on the international stage. The city had been selected to host the World's Fair, beating out New York and a number of other American contenders. A prominent local architect, Daniel Burnham, had taken the reins to organize and construct the massive project. He assembled a dream team of architects, landscapers, engineers, and other professionals to help pull the fair together. Certainly Chicago could outdo the Paris Fair, which had been a worldwide success years earlier.

Unfortunately for Burnham and his team, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Due to a lack of organization and bickering among the committees responsible for the fair, construction began far later than it should have. Partially completed buildings blew over and burned down. Union workers threatened strikes. One sideshow act showed up a year early, while another (which was believed to be made up of cannibals) killed the man sent to retrieve them and never showed up at all. And there was a monster on the loose. A man who used the chaos of Chicago at this time in history to conceal the murders of dozens of people - many of them young, single women. A man who constructed a building with stolen money, then used the building as a slaughterhouse to lure, kill, and dispose of his victims.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is a terrific book. It is nonfiction, but it reads like a novel. The real-life details of this story seem almost too bizarre to be true, yet this is one example of the old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction." The author, Erik Larson, even includes a lengthy section at the back where he documents his facts and explains his suppositions.

The book's chapters alternate between the World's Fair and the exploits of serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes. I found myself enjoying both stories, as they ran parallel throughout the book. The Herculean task of putting together the fair in record time was fascinating, and the sociopathic actions of Dr. Holmes were chilling. It made for a brilliant contrast - just when the frustrations of the Fair seemed overwhelming, the book switched to Dr. Holmes as he lured yet another young woman into his web. And just when Dr. Holmes' evil seemed too much to bear, the chapter would end and the reader would be back at the World's Fair dealing with political back stabbing, instead of Holmes' more literal variety.

I rarely read nonfiction, but this book came highly recommended to me, so I gave it a try. I'm so glad I did, too. It offers a wonderful historical perspective on Chicago and the world near the close of the 19th century. For a Chicago-area native like me, its frequent mentions of famous local names, like Burnham and Adler and Marshall Field, that still grace street signs and the sides of buildings, were an added treat. Just a brief word of warning, though: it does contain some of the dreaded "adult themes." Some of Dr. Holmes' crimes are described - although not too graphically - and they might be upsetting for "younger or more sensitive" readers.

I strongly recommend THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY to anyone who enjoys an engrossing, well-written story, whether they normally read fiction or nonfiction. In particular, if readers have a book report in school, this book should be considered. It makes history come alive.
LaceyAB More than 1 year ago
Having some knowledge of Chicago I found this book very interesting. I initially thought I would like the book primarily because of the murder mystery. I ended up enjoying the Architectural part of the book even better. The author seemed to really do his research with the people who helped make Chicago the selection for the World Fair in 1893. The history and the way it was written made me feel for the people who worked, lived and died so long ago. They didn't have modern medicine and died young. The lack of modern convenience made life so, so hard. In 1874, I could sense the beginning of Big Finance and Big organizations. At twenty-eight years old a young architect tells a friend "My idea," he said, "is to work up a big business, to handle big things, deal with big business men, and to build up big organization, for you can't handle big things unless you have an organization" (Larson 21). From this Burnham and Root prospered by helping the city become the birthplace of skyscrapers. I had to remind myself this book was real history. It was so entertaining I felt as if I was reading a fiction novel. Some of the architecture stands today in Chicago and this makes this book even more exciting. What I enjoyed most about this book is that I felt I was reading two books at the same time. I had no dislikes in this book and I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves murder mysteries, history and architecture. Definitely one of the best books I've ever read.
VickiK More than 1 year ago
The title of the book is misleading. Basically the book is two entirely, unrelated stories that have nothing to do with each other. If you like architecture and the history thereof, you may very well enjoy this book. However, if you are a mystery/thriller buff, it will be a big disappointment.
TimetoGraduate-2011 More than 1 year ago
This book warped my mind. To think that this story is actually true is just unimaginable. The Devil in the White City is a great piece or work! Erik Larson put together and unbelievable book that proves truth is stranger than fiction. The story is about two men and the World's Fair of 1893. One man, Daniel Burnham, is a brilliant architect who brings the idea of the World's Fair to life. He built what some thought was impossible. The other man, Dr. H. H. Holmes is a cunning serial killer who uses the World's Fair to lure his unsuspecting victims to their doom. This book is not for middle school readers of anyone of that sort, this book is meant for higher level readers. I loved how this book is composed of murder and mystery, but also architecture and history. The World's Fair had some of the most interesting, important innovations of the Gilded Age. It was home of the world's first Ferris Wheel, the world's first skyscraper (The Montauk), and some of the 19th century's most influential figures such as Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Clarence Darrow, Archduke Francais Ferdinand, Buffalo Bill, and Helen Keller. I cannot begin the explain how much I enjoyed this book. It tells two stories at the same time of two men who never met, but yet worked within a few blocks of each other. I loved almost every part of this story! I enjoy gruesome facts and details that can make your hair stand on end. The only thing I didn't like is how much it was sometimes hard to follow what was going on at what time. I sometimes had to re-read a chapter or two to grasp what was happening. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone who loves a good read! One of the most chilling parts of the book was in the epilogue when it gives details about a physician/serial killer that was arrested in 1997 at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. He had written down passages from certain books that inspired his acts of murder. He copied a passage from a book about Holmes called the Torture Doctor by David Franke and what he wrote sent a chill down my spine. " 'He could look at himself in a mirror and tell himself that he was one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world,' " Swango's notebook read, " ' He could feel that he was a god in disguise.' "
reading-granny More than 1 year ago
Since I was unable to finish the book, please take my review with a grain of salt. I found the history of this book fascinating. Erik Larson has obviously done an incredible amount of research. The reason I couldn't finish the book has nothing to do with his writing ability. I just found myself so disturbed by the premeditated plans of murder by one of the main characters that I couldn't stop thinking about it. I found the darkness settling into me, and I couldn't shake it. I was literally having nightmares. Part of me would love to finish the book, and for those people who aren't as easily disturbed by such things, I would recommend it. For the sake of my own emotional well-being, though, I had to step out of the White City.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like history, this book is brilliant. Just read it!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chicago 1893: the city is immersed in tremendous change, progress, and innovation. Trains arrive in the crowded stations every few minutes, leading more wide eyed tourists into the heart of a new frontier. In the expansion of the city and the sweeping narrative of two powerful men's stories intertwined, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Mayhem at the Fair that Changed America (Vintage Books, 2003, 447 pgs) shows the undercurrent of danger in a city that can no longer control itself. The Devil in the White City is Erik Larson's historical crime drama centered around the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The electricity of Chicago is captured in every chapter, infecting the reader with a sense of great civic pride and tremendous competition that was so rampant in that time. The book opens to an anxious crowd clustered around a newspaper printer's front window, waiting not so patiently for the results of a Congressional vote. Chicago, seen as a city of pure industry and little refinement, had to beat the nation's capitol as well as the nation's cultural capitol, New York, for the bid to host the grandest party of the century. Counts against it were the city's tremendous Union Stock Yards, the smell of which dominated the city's air. Larson quotes Upton Sinclair from his famous book The Jungle, saying the smell was "an elemental odor.raw and crude, it was rich, almost rancid, sensual and strong." Among the chaos that is a theme in this book, a hero and villain are revealed. Daniel Hudson Burnham was the main architect in charge of constructing the White City as it came to be called, and assembled a team of the country's greatest architects and designers. The goal was simple: The Columbian Exposition had to outshine the Paris World's Fair of 1889 in every way, shape, and form, especially when it came to the wow-factor of Eiffel's newly built tower. The term "Out Eiffel-Eiffel" becomes the mantra of the story as countless designs are presented right up to the wire of the Dedication Ceremony, just under a year before the fair's official opening. The story will certainly appeal to those who have a sweet spot for history and nostalgia (The fair is responsible for the Ferris Wheel, the Pledge of Allegiance, and more minutely, the zipper), but some will have a difficult time getting through the sluggish meetings of the many architects. The narrative moves at a good pace until it gets confined into one of the many indecisive meetings where even the plans for the fairs structures are not finished a year into the venture. The frustration is tangible in these chapters, but impatient readers may just interpret it as the author's frustration with a need for back story.
Elikseur More than 1 year ago
We have a great history that reads with the excitement of a beach novel. The story of the Chicago Columbian exhibition is woven together with that of an eerie and clever killer. The atmosphere of the era is brought to life along with the issues that are timeless - politics, deadlines, business rivalries, aesthetics. Using a prominent figure's personal story enables events that are familiar, like the Titanic, to serve as reference anchors, both in timeframe and personalities. The characters, along with the emotions of the events, become very visible and real to the reader. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in Chicago or in the late 19th Century.
fL0ssi3 More than 1 year ago
interesting story...H. H. Holmes is a most intriguing serial killer, elaborate and highly functional - he was blessed to grow up in a time period where people weren't so carefully watched, where killing a child was unheard of, and in the burgeoning city of Chicago, noxious with slaughter house factory fumes, poor sewage drainage and overcrowded tenements, people died and disappeared daily, with no one to ask after them once they were gone. That people began to arrive in the thousands for the Chicago fair, and that they all required housing, only seemed to add fuel to his fire - it deviously ingenius that he should construct a building fit with secret gas chambers and upright, underground kilns for burning bodies, a building that was meant to house apartments for various, untraceable women arriving in Chicago to seek their fortunes, and that he should have the good luck of then converting it into a hotel just in time for the Fair. The Fair itself, and the construction of the Fair, is quite enlightening - from it came The Ferris Wheel (our answer to France's Fair and their Eiffel Tower), Juicy Fruit Gum, Shredded Wheat, Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and the beginning of Labor Unions, as well as a turn in American architecture towards the past (especially with the use of columns, which we still see today). The entire grounds were electrically lit at night (Tesla was there, to marvel at the huge "electrical house"). Even "The Windy City", a referral to Chicago, came about from the Fair. It alluded not to the actual windiness of the city, but rather to Chicago's need to "talk itself up"; Chicago apparently had an inferiority complex (what with it's smoke-filled skies and unsanitary conditions and rampant crime) and so felt the need to constantly reaffirm to the world what a wonderful, burgeoning place it was, like a nerd kid whining about how cool he really is (endearing). It fought pretty hard to get the Fair in the first place. All in all, an interesting read, especially once you realize how the Fair really changed and shaped things in the United States, and how HH Holmes existed within it and helped to change crime investigation, and also how he exposed just how dark a man's soul can really be. If you like historical fiction, it's a good read. If you don't like historical detail, it might take you a while.
Capitalist More than 1 year ago
So many histories are dry and the people remain two-dimensional. Not so with this book; the time period comes alive and the people are quite interesting. I am not sure why it bothers some people that the stories of the two main characters never directly intersect. To me, it was fascinating that either story occurred at all, much less in such close proximity, and that the Chicago World's Fair served as the inspiration for both men.
havertypork More than 1 year ago
The amount of raw resources required to build the 1893 Chicago World's Fair was staggering. It is such a pity that the buildings were considered temporary and were not maintained when so much went into building them. The serial killer was also an exceptional character of evil. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not one for nonfiction usually, but Erik Larson's ‘The Devil in the White City ’had me hooked. Larson's story connects the psychopathic tendencies of America's first serial killer and the man who built his playground. ‘The Devil in the White City’ transforms the 1893 World's Fair into a real event, beyond the news articles written about the fair.As well as making it's two main players, Daniel Burnham and H. H. Holmes, seem slightly more real by attempting to fill in gaps left by history. Through extensive research, the lives of Burnham, the architect behind the world's fair, and Holmes, the shadow killer who exploits the fair's population, are recreated. Larson poured a large amount of effort into this tale.It is very obvious and shown through the characterization of Burnham and Holmes. I greatly enjoyed that about the story amongst, other things. This includes the intimate character details, that give depth. Learning about the troubles of both Burnham and Holmes, helps readers like me understand their motives.It shows how they are both driven by their past. Such details put ‘The Devil in the White City’ in a whole new category. Rather than being boringly informative, Larson gives the all the frustration, fright, and other feelings, that may have been over shined by the tragedies that occurred a platform, to express themselves in.The tale spun is easy to read, and it shines due to the intense research behind it. Larson makes the Murder Hotel and the Chicago World's Fair more than past locations for death and prosperity. Thus, I would definitely recommend ‘The Devil in the White City’ as a book to read leisurely!
Kenton3 More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so interesting I couldn't put it down ......I felt it just flowed from one page to the next . Eric Larson did a wonderful job of combining the setting of the Chicago fair with the bone chilling intrigue of a serial killer
iblog4books More than 1 year ago
This book is all over the place and not holding my attention--a lot of details about the Chicago World's Fair in addition to setting it up to talk about the serial killer. Perhaps too many people, places, and events for an audio book? At 18% finished, I'm setting this one aside.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great story of the Gilded Age in early Chicago. The architects led by Daniel Burnham trying to make Chicago into one of the most  prominent cities in the world and everything it took to make that dream to come true.  The other story running is Dr. Holmes who uses the fair and his hotel as a chamber of horrors. Mr. Larson's  uses historical facts that reads like a great novel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the true crime books and this one was really good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading about the Chicago World's Fair. I didn't know much about it before reading this book and had no idea what a big deal it was. I also enjoyed the juxtapositioning of the story of H.H. Holmes with the story of the fair. That being said, this book left me wishing for more details about both. It's a great introduction to both stories but if you're like me, you will be looking elsewhere for more information.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is by far the best non fiction novel I have ever read. It shows the greatest hieghts and lowest depths of the human spirit. The tales of the two radically different men is told in such great detail that they mystify and enchant you to the point that you feel like you lived in Chicago during the Worlds Fair.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story of the Chicago World's Fair intertwined with that of a serial killer was intrinsicaly fascinating. The author did extensive research on the subject. Unfortunately he chose to include every detail of it, which bogged down the story. I found myself skimming over whole sections that were weighed down with minute details. I think the book would have benefitted from judicious editing. But, a reader will learn a lot about the time, place, political intrigue and customs of the era. Worth reading if one is patient.
Hill_Ravens More than 1 year ago
Devil in the White City What an amazing book. Full of historical facts weaved through an intense story of the lives which went into the building of the Chicago Worlds Fair. I was amazed and delighted with the struggles, triumphs and nuances which went into the creation of such an amazing event in history. The devil is a story of one man who was in Chicago during this time period who was an artful serial killer. The two stories, that of the fair and that of the devil are told in a tasteful manner. The details given surround the fair and the devil is developed at a character level but the gore was thankfully cut short and bearable. I wish all history could be told in the same manner as this book. I think I learned more about 1893 time period in our country from this story than I have from anything else in life about it. Highly recommend to anyone who likes a good struggle, suspense and the satisfaction of seeing so many tangents come together to build something historical.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The juxtaposition of the two themes was absorbing. The book was well-written and compelling; however, I did find the wealth of (what sometimes seemed repetitious) minutiae about the various construction and landscaping details a bit mind numbing. These often seemed to interrupt the ebb and flow of the continuing stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a one of a kind book with the tales of two men intertwined in a non-fiction thriller that will keep you turning pages. One man is an architect by the name Daniel Burnham who is in charge of designing the World Fair in Chicago. The other man is a young, handsome and smart witted man who was a serial killer who went by the name H. H. Holmes. At first the way the chapters jumped back and forth between the two men's lives was confusing and kind of annoying. But soon the jumping back and forth grew on me and the suspense between chapters left me wanting to read more. This book also not only gave a thrilling story but also gave a very detailed history of one of America's greatest achievements. But the most entertaining part of the story was that of H. H. Holmes and how he deceived everyone and got away with dozens of murders.
EdnaMole More than 1 year ago
I am not a big reader of non-fiction, but The Devil in the White City made for interesting reading. I enjoyed reading about all of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that faced Burnham and Olmstead in their quest to see their vision come alive. There were a great many engineering and architectural challenges and I especially enjoyed reading of the 'new' feats that were achieved which changed the future forever after the Fair. The interwoven story of Holmes and the murders he committed were not written in a sensational fashion and enables the reader to get into the mind of Holmes. I actually found myself admiring Holmes ability to adapt and turn each situation to his advantage. I would recommend this book to someone interested in this period in history, someone who enjoys the architecture of one of America's greatest cities and to someone who enjoys reading of historical feats of engineering.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very enjoyable. The detailed history of Chicago's architecture was particularly fascinating and gives the reader a greater appreciation for the city's history. The book takes us through the World's Fair in Chicago, from the point that the city is awarded the honor by Congress through the close of the fair. The story is told in the third person, giving the reader an almost omnicient point of view over the events as they unfold. The vivid desciptions allow the reader to picture in his or her mind's eye the glory and magnitude of the event. The secondary story line about a prolific serial killer who operated in the city at the time of the fair is equally enjoyable and allows one to better understand the social implications of the events at a time of great change and upheaval in America.