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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic,…
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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that… (2003)

by Erik Larson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
12,778432184 (4.01)1 / 664
  1. 60
    Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (jbgryphon)
  2. 82
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (bnbookgirl)
  3. 71
    Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson (thatwordnerd)
    thatwordnerd: Both books tell a true story, with a multitude of sources, but are written in a way that makes the reader feel as if it is almost fiction. The reader (see more) is not hit over the head with facts and is able to get sucked into the story and the era.
  4. 50
    Depraved: The Definitive True Story of H.H. Holmes, Whose Grotesque Crimes Shattered Turn-of-the-Century Chicago by Harold Schechter (jseger9000)
    jseger9000: Another account of H.H. Holmes
  5. 40
    The Infamous Burke and Hare: Serial Killers and Resurrectionists of Nineteenth Century Edinburgh by R. Michael Gordon (cammykitty)
  6. 40
    American Gothic by Robert Bloch (CarlT)
    CarlT: Though AMERICAN GOTHIC is fiction and THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is non-fiction, both books are based on the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (nicknamed "The White City") and the horrific murders committed by serial killer Henry H. Holmes.
  7. 30
    Heartland Serial Killers: Belle Gunness, Johann Hoch, and Murder for Profit in Gaslight Era Chicago by Richard C. Lindberg (meggyweg)
  8. 31
    The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry (browner56)
    browner56: Two fascinating looks at murder and mayhem in the Windy City at the turn of the last century.
  9. 20
    The inventor and the tycoon by Edward Ball (davesmind)
  10. 20
    Walter Dew: The Man Who Caught Crippen by Nicholas Connell (mysterymax)
  11. 21
    The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (elbakerone)
  12. 00
    The Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer by M. William Phelps (bnbookgirl)
    bnbookgirl: mixing true crime with historical event
  13. 11
    The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Both concern late-19th C American killers in the backdrop of a bigger social story of advancement (Chicago Fair and Oxford English Dictionary).
  14. 11
    Michelangelo & The Pope's Ceiling by Ross King (elbakerone)
  15. 00
    Conquering Gotham : a Gilded Age epic : the construction of Penn Station and its tunnels by Jill Jonnes (AnnaClaire)
  16. 11
    Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott (DK_Atkinson)
  17. 00
    Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count by Jill Jonnes (Anonymous user, itbgc)
  18. 00
    The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt (JGoto)
  19. 00
    The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements by Woody Register (SomeGuyInVirginia)
  20. 23
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(see all 23 recommendations)

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English (430)  Danish (2)  All languages (432)
Showing 1-5 of 430 (next | show all)
I LOVED this book. While reading it, I was completely oblivious to the fact that it is non-fiction. You would never know. Larson did an excellent job making it read like a mystery novel. There were parts that got a little... boring. They were easily forgiveable, however and incredibly educational, although I can't say when I'll need to know anything about the architecture of that era.

DEFINITELY worth reading! ( )
  cebellol | Jul 22, 2014 |
The curious thing about this book is that I don't particularly like architecture, and yet I sped through Larson's nonfiction take on the creation of the Chicago World's Fair with surprising ease. I was never bored and never exasperated with this book, even though the majority of its subject matter covers a subject I didn't have and still have much active interest in. I will admit from time to time I wished for the storyline to switch back to following the serial killer H.H. Holmes when details about foundations and the construction of lagoons wore on, but holistically the book was far from a trial. In fact, I truly lost myself in it.

The prose is simple but exact, providing just enough narrative flourish to ease the facts in alongside each other on the page. Larson uses the tiniest details to tantalize the reader and make reference for later on. His description of articulated corpses and debauchery never feels exploitative, which is refreshing.

My one complaint about this book is, while I enjoyed the H.H. Holmes half, at times his and the Fair narratives felt awkwardly divergent, considering that Holmes merely resided in Chicago at the time of its construction and had little else to do with it. However, the book is an exemplary example of reinvigorating history in prose form. ( )
  marthaearly | Jun 6, 2014 |
Despite awards & rave reviews, I was disappointed in this book that alternates between two parallel narratives: the planning & construction of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago under the direction of architect Daniel Burnham & the planning & execution of numerous murders (primarily in Chicago) by psychopath Dr. H. H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett). Although often an effective device, here the back and forth between the two histories, albeit related in time and place, is awkward & distracting. If the author had switched stories less often, this parallel structure might have been more successful. In any case, I found the history of the World's Fair more interesting than that of the serial killer. I was fascinated by all the inventions & new technologies associated with the fair (alternating current, the Ferris Wheel, Aunt Jemima's pancake mix, the first zipper, the first all-electric kitchen, the first electric chair, Juicy Fruit gum, Cracker Jacks, Shredded Wheat, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, the vertical file) as well as the significance of the fair to the lives & careers of so many turn of the century personages: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Frank Lloyd Wright, Harriet Monroe (founder of Poetry magazine), Sol Bloom (introduced the Midway Plaisance that became a standard feature at all subsequent fairs), Frederick Law Olmsted (landscape architect who designed Central Park), Helen Keller & Frank Haven Hall (inventor of the Braille typewriter), Eugene Debs & the labor movement, Thomas Edison, Theodore Dreiser, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, etc. This history is written in an In Cold Blood style of imputing thoughts and emotions to historical actors. always a dicey enterprise, even if it does make for a less tedious read than straight documentation. Once having chosen this approach, however, Larson should have pursued it more enthusiastically, as I found the interior lives of his characters unconvincing as history, while at the same time, a bit of a yawn as story. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Amazing book! This non-fiction book is as easy to read as any thriller on the fiction shelf and twice as good! The author's descriptions of settings and characters were so detailed they made me feel like I was part of that world. I didn't know much about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair before reading this and had no idea how many famous items and people got their start there. It boggles my mind that such a monumental event has gotten lost in history! Thank you to the author for making this come alive for me and any future readers of this book! ( )
  SuzReads | May 20, 2014 |
The 1893 World Fair in Chicago was a phenomenal achievement given the many challenges that faced the consortium of some of America's best architects and engineers in the late 19th Century. Never before had an exposition of that magnitude been attempted. Completed in just slightly more than 2 years and in spite of the economic upheaval that caused many a bank closure in the 1890s, an increasingly vocal and powerful Union, unforeseen weather challenges, fires, structural collapses and not an insignificant number of site-related deaths and injuries, the Chicago World Fair provided America with novel experiences such as the first Ferris Wheel, a moving structure that far surpassed the previously feted Eiffel Tower during the Paris Exposition, Zulu warriors, a belly dancer, Cracker Jack and Shredded Wheat. The White City out in Jackson Point was a direct contrast to the dark Dickensian-like city of Chicago, dark, no stranger to crime, poor sanitary conditions and a nauseating pervading stench.
The man at the helm of the World Fair and driving workers, architects, engineers and landscapers to a frenzy in order to meet the deadline set for the Opening Day was none other than architect Daniel Burnham.

But amidst the prominence and chaos that went into the development of the World Fair, 2 other men set individual events in motion that would gain as much publicity as the World Fair itself. One was Patrick Prendegast, a lunatic whose actions would have a huge impact on the final day of the World Fair. The other was Dr H.H. Holmes, a self-declared pharmacist and serial killer who built his own crematorium under the noses of his neighbors and was responsible for, according to his confession and memoir, over 20 deaths of young women, a male associate and 4 children. A few intended victims, through luck, managed to escape his clutches and lived to tell the tale of their uneasiness with this otherwise charming young man.

There were a few moments in the book that dragged and I felt as if I was being made to trudge through the soggy trenches left by the heavy rains in Chicago during that period. But on the whole, it is a good representation of the times and an excellent character sketch of Burnham and Holmes. ( )
  cameling | May 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 430 (next | show all)
it could nearly be Broadway, but Larson - who might be the last living writer still to use the word "harbinger" - does not successfully resolve an interesting idea into a wholly cohesive narrative. Evoke as he might, Larson's pre-emptive declaration early in the book that, while both "handsome and blue eyed", the "two never met" undermines the plot of a history book that reads like fiction.
added by mikeg2 | editThe Guardian, Stephen Bayley (Jul 26, 2003)
 
In ''The Devil in the White City,'' Erik Larson, the author of ''Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History,'' wants to tell the whole story, both the glory of Burnham's creation and the sordid details of the first known urban psychopath in American history. It is not a comfortable fit. He uses language well, but has little sense of pacing or focus, perhaps because of the huge amount of material available on the fair.
 
Mr. Larson has written a dynamic, enveloping book filled with haunting, closely annotated information. And it doesn't hurt that this truth really is stranger than fiction.
 

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Erik Larsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.
Daniel H. Burnham
Director of Works
World's Columbian Exposition, 1893
I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.
Dr. H. H. Holmes
Confession
1896
Dedication
To Chris, Kristen, Lauren, and Erin,
for making it all worthwhile

—and to Molly, whose lust for socks
kept us all on our toes
First words
The date was April 14, 1912, a sinister day in maritime history, but of course the man in suite 63–65, shelter deck C, did not yet know it.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are both revealed through Larson's skillful writing. --John Moe

Ar 9.2, 23 Pts
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375725601, Paperback)

Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are both revealed through Larson's skillful writing. --John Moe

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:03 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

While Daniel H. Burnham builds the glittering 1893 Chicago World's Fair, a serial killer lures young women to a torture chamber.

» see all 12 descriptions

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