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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… (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Erik Larson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
13,396459163 (4.01)1 / 738
Member:Auggie
Title:The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
Authors:Erik Larson
Info:Vintage (2004), Paperback, 447 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:01/23/2013

Work details

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

  1. 102
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (bnbookgirl)
  2. 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.
  3. 60
    Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (jbgryphon)
  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. 30
    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)
  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 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. 00
    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
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    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 (455)  Danish (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (458)
Showing 1-5 of 455 (next | show all)
What a crazy and beautifully written book. It gave me chills. You'd think a book about a fair in the 1890s would be boring af, but it's not! Even when you take out the serial killer parts, the development of the White City is filled with drama and great descriptions. The main focus is on Burnham, the main architect to build a fair in Chicago. He has to overcome bureaucrat bullshit, a strict timeline, growing unions, and various obstacles. But while all this is coming together there's a sick serial killer out there that the cops have no idea about and he's taking full advantage of the extra visitors of the fair, H. H. Holmes. He poisons women and children and does some horrible shit to them. His set up is a few streets away from the White City, people have no idea what kind of person he really is. Holmes comes off friendly and manipulates people to his will. He was a true psychopath. It's sad that something so tragic was going on while Chicago was enchanted by the White City. ( )
  GrlIntrrptdRdng | Aug 28, 2015 |
An amazing book. The detail on the construction of the World's Fair and its contribution to the global consciousness is strong enough to stand as a book on its own. Throw in the creepiest psychopathic serial killer you've never heard of makes it a must-read. ( )
  LJMax | Aug 21, 2015 |
Telling two stories in parallel can work if the stories are similar in detail and have enough points of contact. In this case, Larson tells the story of the planning and construction of the World's Fair in great detail. He seems to share my fascination with Frederick Law Olmstead, going into digressions on Central Park and other Olmstead concerns, and I appreciated these parts of the book very much. The story of the serial killer styling himself H. H. Holmes was told in a great deal less detail, apparently reflecting the relative lack of source material, which in turn reflects the murderer's success in hiding his crimes. We learn a lot about his charming public persona and daily interactions, but it is merely mentioned in passing that many women checked into his convenient but disturbing hotel who never checked out, leaving their tab unpaid and all their belongings unclaimed. We also learn that he had a private crematorium constructed in the basement. Conclusions are drawn but the full story remains untold, at least in this book.

As for any point of contact between the two stories, there seems to be none beyond the bare fact that they both took place at the same time in the same city. I see no need for the stories to have been combined in alternating chapters of one book. The Fair would have made a good story on its own. The Devil sub-plot needed a lot of fleshing out. I found the switching back and forth disrupted my reading experience to the point where it became boring, and then unbearably boring.

Perhaps part of my frustration also stemmed from the lack of photographs. The book repeatedly describes individuals, events, and especially Fair structures that beg to be illustrated. When I found myself paging through the book in a vain search for a photography section (and the uneasy feeling that it might not be the first time - I spent weeks trying to "get into" Larson's narrative), I finally conceded to myself that I was deriving more frustration than enjoyment from the reading experience and abandoned the book somewhere past the halfway point. ( )
  muumi | Jul 30, 2015 |
it was good at first,then it became completely boring.but again am not fan of non-fiction so maybe this why i didn't like it ( )
  hadeer | Jul 9, 2015 |
To be honest I'm not sure I can write a review that would do this book justice. It's one of the most (if not the most) well written books I've ever read. Nearly every sentence was a work of art. Beautifully and masterfully crafted.

It is brimming with fascinating and magical moments in history that had me gasping in almost every chapter. Just a few examples that illustrate this:
A carpenter and furniture-maker who worked at the fair told stories about the magic of the city by the lake. His name was Elias Disney, and his son Walt heard those stories.
Frank Haven Hall, who invented the machine capable of typing in Braille, had a chance encounter at the fair with a young blind girl. Her name was Helen Keller.
Susan B. Anthony was a special guest of Buffalo Bill Cody to his Wild West show at the fair. At the start of that show, he raced towards her and bowed to her.

Half of the book centers around the Fair, but the other half centers around the story of "America's First Serial Killer", H.H. Holmes. The portion of the book that surrounds Holmes is gripping and horrifying. This man was truly evil. He was a thief, a liar, and a heartless killer. We are introduced to him, his cohorts, and his many victims and their families. Late in the book we are introduced to the man who will eventually discover the depths of horror created by Holmes.

READ THIS BOOK.You won't regret it. ( )
  DanielleMD | Jun 20, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 455 (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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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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