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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
13,904477150 (4.01)1 / 761
  1. 102
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (bnbookgirl)
  2. 60
    Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (jbgryphon)
  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
    The Infamous Burke and Hare: Serial Killers and Resurrectionists of Nineteenth Century Edinburgh by R. Michael Gordon (cammykitty)
  5. 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
  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. 40
    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Offering rich details of Savannah in the 1980s (Midnight in the Garden) and Chicago in the 1890s (Devil in the White City), these well-researched and dramatic recreations of terrible crimes are equally compelling, despite differences in time period and location.… (more)
  8. 30
    Heartland Serial Killers: Belle Gunness, Johann Hoch, and Murder for Profit in Gaslight Era Chicago by Richard C. Lindberg (meggyweg)
  9. 20
    Walter Dew: The Man Who Caught Crippen by Nicholas Connell (mysterymax)
  10. 20
    The Inventor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball (davesmind)
  11. 31
    The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary 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).
  12. 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.
  13. 21
    Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott (DK_Atkinson)
  14. 21
    The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (elbakerone)
  15. 10
    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  16. 00
    The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: The Devil In the White City and The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher are compelling and richly detailed books about historical true crime. These stories present not only details about the crime but also about the social mores of the time.
  17. 11
    Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King (elbakerone)
  18. 00
    Conquering Gotham : a Gilded Age epic : the construction of Penn Station and its tunnels by Jill Jonnes (AnnaClaire)
  19. 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)
  20. 00
    The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt (JGoto)

(see all 26 recommendations)

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English (471)  Danish (2)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (475)
Showing 1-5 of 471 (next | show all)
The story of the World's fair in Chicago in the late 1800s. Along for the ride came the first of many identified serial killers, one HH Holmes, hence the title of the book, Devil in the White City.

I thought this book was very well written. The prose was easy to digest and there is more than enough interesting factoids about the history behind the times to keep the pages turning. I am not an architech by any means and found myself rivited by the description of Architecture of the times. The contrast between Chicago (Great River)as a dark and ugly city and the White City that was being built for the fair was a good comparison.

What it took to build the World's fair was nothing more than astounding. The number of problems and delays seemed insurmountable, yet they were able to get it done. There are a ton of little factoids about famous people like Ferris (The inventor of the Ferris Wheel) Anie Oakly, Buffalo Bill and of course the lead architect Mr. Burnham that kept this reader busy wanting more.

Then there is the other side. HH Holmes. Serial killer banking on the popularity of the World's fair to bring young, independant women to the fair so that he can kill them. Granted, the way he went about doing things was interesting but I felt that this should have been a separate story and really had no place in this book. There was enough interesting information in the story of the world's fair where I feel it could have held it's own. This reader suspects that the story of HH Holmes was put in to sell books. Because, other than being at the World's fair in Chicago at the time, there was no real connection between the killer and the World's Fair as a whole. ( )
  DVerdecia | Jan 29, 2016 |
Unbelievable how a serial killer could operate before CSI. Also, this was a World Fair I knew nothing about. ( )
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
This is a fascinating book with at least four interesting themes. First there is a history of Chicago as a developing city. This includes the almost juvenile sounding bickering between New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia for bragging rights as to who (which) is best. Secondly is the history of the Exposition itself. The litany of problems met and solved to more or lesser degree turns into a cliffhanger as the reader races with the characters to meet an opening day deadline. Third we read a history of an early serial killer. This killer is profiled in other works that study the makeup of psychopaths. A final area that I consider a theme is the mass of numerical and anecdotal data about items that we see in modern everyday life. Numerically, the reader can be amazed at the numbers associated with material needed to construct an amazing exposition. “The Cairo exhibit alone employed nearly two hundred Egyptians and contained twenty-five distinct buildings, including a fifteen-hundred-seat theater that introduced America to a new and scandalous form of entertainment” (p.5). There was a snack called Cracker Jack and a cereal called shredded wheat. And where did the phrase “Chicago – the Windy City” come from? This book will tell you and even give expanded explanations. This is a well researched book that reads as if it were entertaining fiction. It would serve as a good invitation to study history for those who think history is boring. ( )
  ajarn7086 | Jan 23, 2016 |
Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City" (2003) is a study in contrasts: mankind at its best and at its worst, both occurring in the same place, Chicago, at the same time, the early 1890s.

Reading David McCullough's "The Greater Journey" late last year, I learned a little about the world's fair held in Paris in 1889, a reminder of which remains to this day, the Eiffel Tower. So I found it interesting to read Larson's account of how the United States hoped to top that wildly successful event with a fair of its own, one honoring the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in the New World. Many of the best architects of the day, headed by David Hudson Burnham, gathered to design what became known as the White City because the buildings were all whitewashed. They even hoped to build a tower that would be better than the one Eiffel built. Instead they settled for the first Ferris wheel, which in its own way proved to be a marvel of design and engineering.

Meanwhile, close to Jackson Park where the fair was built, a master criminal and diabolical serial killer sometimes called H.H. Holmes set up shop. He built a hotel to profit from visitors coming to Chicago for the fair, but he equipped his hotel with special rooms for killing some of his guests (as well as wives, girlfriends, associates and others) and dissecting and burning their bodies.

Larson alternates between the story of the great fair, which ultimately did pass the Paris fair in attendance, and the story of Holmes and his crimes. Amazingly, although numerous visitors to the fair, many of them single women, were reported missing, and many of those disappearances led directly to Holmes and his hotel, Chicago police never considered the young businessman a suspect. That had much to do with the great charm of Holmes, who was loved even by his guards when, a few years later, he finally ended up on death row in Pennsylvania.

This proves a fascinating book, one that deserves the popularity it has enjoyed for the past decade. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jan 23, 2016 |
Enjoyable read. Slow in parts - the details regarding the architecture and fair planning get a bit much in places - but overall a great book. ( )
  joyhclark | Jan 20, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 471 (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.
Quotations
"Suddenly New York and St. Louis wanted the fair. Washington laid claim to the honor on the grounds it was the center of government, New York because it was the center of everything. No one cared what St. Louis thought, although the city got a wink for pluck."
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood"
"They are blue. Great murderers, like great men in other walks of activity, have blue eyes."
"In all the workforce in the park numbered four thousand. The ranks included a carpenter and furniture-maker named Elias Disney, who in coming years would tell many stories about the construction of this magical realm beside the lake. His son Walt would take note."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original language
Book description
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
Grizzly killings in

the shadow of great World's Fair

held in Chicago.

(legallypuzzled)

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:04 -0400)

(see all 8 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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