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The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
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The Devil in the White City (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Erik Larson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
14,990528130 (4.01)1 / 803
Member:voracious
Title:The Devil in the White City
Authors:Erik Larson
Info:Vintage Books (2003), Edition: 1st Vintage Bks. Ed., 2003, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:**
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Work details

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (2003)

  1. 112
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (bnbookgirl)
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    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.
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    Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (jbgryphon)
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    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
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    The Infamous Burke and Hare: Serial Killers and Resurrectionists of Nineteenth Century Edinburgh by R. Michael Gordon (cammykitty)
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    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)
  7. 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.
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    Heartland Serial Killers: Belle Gunness, Johann Hoch, and Murder for Profit in Gaslight Era Chicago by Richard C. Lindberg (meggyweg)
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    Stbalbach: Both concern late-19th C American killers in the backdrop of a bigger social story of advancement (Chicago Fair and Oxford English Dictionary).
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    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.
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    The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective 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.
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(see all 26 recommendations)

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English (523)  Danish (2)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All (527)
Showing 1-5 of 523 (next | show all)
Great book. I've always been interested in Victorian history, especially American Victorian history. Looking at the photos, I was just so amazed at how much of the city of Chicago remains the same. I guess I keep thinking that there's no way that a city could look like a city a 100 years ago.

I also liked reading that a woman designed one of the buildings. Yay women empowerment (although later she supposedly had a break down because some stupid society women wanted to mess up the building with clutter and crap).

And Holmes...*shudder* what an evil man! He's the precursor to Ted Bundy! Suave. Cool. Confident. Manipulative.

I do have to admit I was more interested in Holmes than I was the Columbian exposition. Kind of like "Sin in the Second City", I was more interested in tawdry affairs of the madams of the Everleigh House. Yeah, sure the architecture and the story of how the fair came together was fascinating, but I think it would have been better exhibited in the book had there been more pictures. I wanted to see what the book was describing.

On the other hand, the story of Holmes was so well done that obviously pictures weren't needed.

The ending was so shocking - the story of the children.

Overall a good book! ( )
  wendithegray | May 1, 2017 |
Totally riveting on all levels, All encompassing look at the men, the problems, the politics and the social fabric of the times in building the Chicago World's Fair, juxtaposed with the horrible deeds of serial killer H.H. Holmes. Many famous names appear—wonderful descriptions of the fair (triumphs and failures) and the fairgoers abound. ( )
  LBT | Apr 23, 2017 |
The Devil in the White City tells the stories of two men who made a big impact during the time of the 1893 World Fair held in Chicago: architect Daniel H, Burnham and serial killer H.H, Holmes. Most of the novel focuses on the planning and building of the World Fair by Burnham and all of its problems, pitfalls, and successes. Practically everything that could have gone wrong did, including the poor health and death of his partner, the great economic downturn, the growing demand to pay workers a living wage, the interference of government officials, disastrous weather destroying buildings, and hard to work with land. With all of these obstacles, its opening was a bit lackluster with so many things incomplete. Later on, it proved to be successful anyway, spanning 690 acres, breaking the record for outdoor event attendence, and welcoming over 27 million visitors. The biggest innovations were in the use of electricity to power the fair and the original Ferris Wheel.

While the fair is entertaining in its own right, the more interesting part of the book was about H.H. Holmes, amateur architect, opportunist, and serial killer. He started out as a con artist, using his charm and manipulative nature to start businesses and never pay any debts. His murder spree either targeted people who were in his way financially or women he dated and/or married after he had grown tired of them. After masquerading as a doctor and owning a pharmacy, he took advantage of the World Fair hype to build his own hotel. He built it over a long time, hiring and firing many workers without paying any of them. The resulting building was dark and odd with apartments and retail spaces. Unbeknownst to the occupants and employees, many hidden chambers, hidden passages, heavy duty locks, and hidden gas lines. The basement was outfitted with a huge furnace, lime pits, and acid pools to dispose of bodies when he was done with them. The building surprisingly attracted many people wanting to go to the fair. He only allowed women to stay and redirecting male customers to nearby hotels.

When people started disappearing around him, Holmes claimed they moved, eloped, went back home, or just left in the night with no word. It was years before he was even suspected of anything because of his manufactured, affable personality. It's chilling to think that people could disappear without a trace and it could be months before anyone would even look for them at that time. After he killed, Holmes would dissect the bodies, then sell the skeletons to medical schools as they wouldn't ask any questions about where the body came from. This whole situation with the fair seemed like a coincidentally perfect situation for him to be able to target numerous people and go unnoticed for so long. At his trial, he confessed to murdering 27 people, but it could have easily been many many more. He was suspected of killing his associate Pietzel for insurance money and then killing Pietzel's three children in especially grisly ways. The investigation of these murders was the most interesting part of the novel as it was written more narratively to show the detective's journey.

The Devil in White City is an easy book to read, but it's deceptive. I expected it to mostly be about H.H. Holmes because of the title. At least I expected half of the book to be about him, but it was much less. While the Chicago World Fair is engaging, I read this book for the true crime aspects and they were lacking. H.H. Holmes is a horrific person who got away with a shocking amount of crimes before being put to death. His audacity and the volume of his murders are both shocking and fascinating, making the fair chapters eventually tedious to get through. ( )
  titania86 | Apr 17, 2017 |
A history book that feels like a novel. Not ever boring. Very entertaining and made me keep turning the pages.
Larson is one heck of a writer. ( )
  antrat1965 | Apr 7, 2017 |
This book tells the story of how the World's Fair came to be in Chicago in 1893. It goes into great detail about the trails and tribulations of securing the bid, designing, building, advertising, financing and destroying the fair. It also gives the reader a glimpse of Chicago at the time. Simultaneously, the author weaves in the story of H. H Holmes, a serial killer who struck Chicago during the time of the Fair.
It was good to hear the back story of familiar names: Olmsted, Disney, Ferris, Wright.
A very enjoyable read. ( )
  AstridG | Mar 21, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 523 (next | show all)
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.
 
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.
 
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.
 

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Larson, Erikprimary 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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 12 descriptions

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