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The Devil in the White City (2003)

by Erik Larson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
19,689653179 (4)1 / 970
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America₂s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his "World's Fair Hotel" just west of the fairgrounds₇a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake. The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before. Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.… (more)
Recently added byicky2000, NateMelia, private library, lizuttaro, Gumbywan, AshZuidema, Arena800
  1. 123
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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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    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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    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.
  8. 51
    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)
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    The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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(see all 29 recommendations)

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English (648)  Danish (2)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (652)
Showing 1-5 of 648 (next | show all)
This is a tricksty book to try and rate.

Reading about the Chicago World's Fair is compelling. Reading about a serial killer (admittedly) is compelling. But besides having an overlap in date and location, these two have nothing to do with one another. Trading between the two storylines really feels like you're reading two separate books.

There was plenty of really engaging information about the fair -before and during. However, I thought integrating an unrelated murderer in there kind of put a weird haze over the struggles of the engineers, architects, and other workers. On the flip side, it seemed like every time I was fretting WILL SHE LIVE?!, we'd switch to concerns about funding or structural stability. My heart can't take these games, Erik Larson. ( )
  Allyoopsi | Jun 22, 2022 |
Wow, what a ride! I can see myself on the top of Ferris's wheel right now! I found this book to be fascinating; I never knew so much went into a world's fair, and what they had to do in the 1800s and what they had to endure is beyond staggering. Larson is a masterful storyteller with intense research to support his story. At times I felt I was reading a novel, not a nonfiction text. Larson does take some liberties with Holmes's story, but his theories make sense with all of the support he gathered. The history of the World's Columbian Exposition is spellbinding. When I have to keep looking up stuff because I want to find out more, that's an excellent sign in my proverbial book that the piece I am reading is worth it. Why not a 5? I'd give it a 4.5+, but at some places the monotonous building of the fair can be a bit overwhelming. Other than that, I'm looking to read more of Larson's work and still want to explore this incredible world's fair of unsurpassed beauty, the grotesque, the freakish, the impossible, the improbable, the unbelievable ... this is the book for you. ( )
  crabbyabbe | Apr 26, 2022 |
Book on a serial killer Henry Holmes, around the time of the Chicago world's fair of 1893.He ran a chemist's, and a hotel.,building gas chambers in the hotel to kill his victims. Basically a con man, using the gift of the gab to sell quack medicines, get around creditors and builders, and charm his victims. The only people who see through his veneer are his child victims. Basically he viewed other people as disposable. He only got caught when he killed his henchman after taking out an insurance policy against his life, and one of the insurance investigators suspected foul play. Weirdly, reading this book reminded me of a low level psycho I had a run in with years ago. Certainly not a serial killer, but a super duper salesman given in stressful moments to fantasising about torturing enemies in disused swimming pools. More practically, he was prone to bullying neighbours with threats to get the council onto them re: immigration status. Nevertheless he was seen as a personable guy by many people.
The "Devil" angle to the book is a bit dubious. Holmes himself himself claimed identity with the Devil, but it didn't save him from execution. ( )
  George_Stokoe | Mar 8, 2022 |
I'm conflicted as to whether to give this a 2 or a 3. If I picked it up, I would keep reading for at least an hour. But then something would inevitably annoy me so much that I had to stop.

Larson is trying to cram too many things together, and he's insistent on doing it Mythbusters style to keep to his timeline. This means lots of irritating foreshadowing, such as: "For Marion and the boys, it promised to be a dream journey; for Olmsted it became something rather more dark." Spoiler alert - Olmsted does not die, nor does any supremely great tragedy befall him on this trip. This is already a long book filled with useless factoids - Larson doesn't need to pad it.

The two narratives also don't really fit together. They occur in Chicago at the same time...that's about it. It's obvious that the Columbian Exposition was much better documented than the serial murders, and it shows in the abrupt switches between stories.

Larson also puts words into peoples' mouths. This is especially bad for Holmes' victims. He presents nuggets of fact (what happened to the remains or victims' possessions), but Larson could not actually know the thoughts of the victims in their final moments, as he purports to with equal confidence as the physical evidence. This is what usually threw me out of the narrative.

After the end of the fair, Holmes' story got a bit better. Larson was no longer speculating on still-mysterious deaths, and the story relied much less on feelings and opinions.

But now I'm finally inspired to go read historical accounts that are well-written, so I have this book to thank for that. ( )
  Tikimoof | Feb 17, 2022 |
The fair portion was just boring to me, decided to stop when I realized I had skipped over the last few fair sections and was only reading the Holmes chapters. ( )
  fellanta13 | Feb 14, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 648 (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.
 

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Erik Larsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldwyn, TonyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tézenas, HubertTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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People/Characters
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Important events
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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.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America₂s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his "World's Fair Hotel" just west of the fairgrounds₇a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake. The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before. Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

No library descriptions found.

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)
A glittering fair,
Like a white gauze covering,
Horrifying scars.
(hillaryrose7)

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