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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
13,096444173 (4.01)1 / 693
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. 60
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  5. 40
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English (441)  Danish (2)  All languages (443)
Showing 1-5 of 441 (next | show all)
The Devil in the White City tells two independent, yet contemporaneous, Chicago stories: first of the massive Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) of 1893, and the second of the first serial killer in the United States. During the chapters about the fair, I was hoping to get back to more about the killer; during the killer's chapters, I was a bit surprised to find myself wanting to know more about the fair's layout and architecture and political infighting. Each story could have been fleshed out more to be an independent book, but the juxtaposition of the two made for interesting reading.

LT Haiku:
------------

Grizzly killings in
the shadow of great World's Fair
held in Chicago. ( )
  legallypuzzled | Dec 15, 2014 |
Non-fiction is generally a slower read for me than fiction, but this zipped right along. Erik Larson struck upon a fascinating topic when he began investigating the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the simultaneous activities of the serial killer H.H. Holmes. Much has been made of the merging and overlapping of these stories. The mood switch can be a bit jarring but oftentimes goes more smoothly than you might expect, since preparation for the fair and the skirting of disaster is often filled with its own tension to mirror that of the murderer's activities. Along the way he's thrown in a broad assortment of related details that branch in all kinds of directions: you'll find out the connection between the fair and Central Park, Walt Disney, Edison vs Tesla, Kodak, etc., sometimes in passing and sometimes with a more elaborate unveiling.

Similar to when I read Simon Winchester, despite the great choice of topic I'm put off by some of the style choices. In Larson's case it's the half-divulged facts he used, dangling the remainder like a carrot, or the artificial withholding of names so he could do a big reveal later, etc. I found these tricks more frustrating than they were suspenseful. At the very same time he sometimes undercuts the suspense he values by giving away the eventual result too soon of some scheme or other, before we should know whether it is going to pay off. I'm also not too crazy about the many little scene breaks which could have been more smoothly woven into a continuous narrative.

None of that became any more than a nuisance, since the story proceeded chronologically and there was always another fascinating bit just a page or two away. It's a great snapshot not only of the Chicago fair and a portrayal of the murders but also of the period, and it demonstrates at once both the heights to which humans can aspire and the depths to which they may fall. ( )
  Cecrow | Dec 5, 2014 |
Meticulously researched and very well written. ( )
  TheJeanette | Dec 2, 2014 |
A must read! Fascinating story of America's first known serial killer. ( )
  emilyjm | Oct 29, 2014 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found the Information about the Fair to be totally fascinating even though I was really only interested in the serial killer to start. I learned so much about this time period of history. For some reason I didn't know anything about it. I wish I had been made to read books like this in school because I would have actually liked history if we had. I listened to the audio version of this and the narrator was excellent. ( )
  Barb_H | Oct 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 441 (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.
 

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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
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(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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:03 -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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