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The Devil in the White City (2003)

by Erik Larson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
18,626621178 (4)1 / 947
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)
  1. 113
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (bnbookgirl)
  2. 81
    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
    The Infamous Burke and Hare: Serial Killers and Resurrectionists of Nineteenth Century Edinburgh by R. Michael Gordon (cammykitty)
  4. 60
    Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (jbgryphon)
  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
    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  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.
  8. 30
    Heartland Serial Killers: Belle Gunness, Johann Hoch, and Murder for Profit in Gaslight Era Chicago by Richard C. Lindberg (meggyweg)
  9. 41
    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)
  10. 20
    The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures by Edward Ball (davesmind)
  11. 31
    Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott (DK_Atkinson, g33kgrrl)
  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. 20
    Walter Dew: The Man Who Caught Crippen by Nicholas Connell (mysterymax)
  14. 10
    Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro (ghr4)
  15. 21
    The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (elbakerone)
  16. 32
    The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.) 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).
  17. 00
    Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris by Steven Levingston (Luchtpint)
  18. 00
    The Killer of Little Shepherds by Douglas Starr (Luchtpint)
  19. 00
    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.
  20. 00
    The Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer by M. William Phelps (bnbookgirl)
    bnbookgirl: mixing true crime with historical event

(see all 29 recommendations)

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English (616)  Danish (2)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (620)
Showing 1-5 of 616 (next | show all)
The Devil In The White City is a non fiction book written in the narrative style of a novel, and I enjoy that style of writing. The book actually reads like two in one, with one focus on the Colombian Exposition in Chicago, and the other focus being on a serial killer who preyed on people during that time as well. It is a quick, enjoyable read, and details The Gilded Age well. It gives a lot of detail and information about this time in Chicago's history, and left me wanting to read more about various subjects covered in the book. My only wish was that there were more photos of The White City, though it did lead me to make a Google Images search that led me to a treasure trove of photos. ( )
  lonetree1972 | Jun 1, 2021 |
This was one of the best historical non-fictions I've read in quite some time. It has an interesting setting (the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the largest fair in the world and one of Chicago's proudest moments as a city), interesting characters (influential but now-forgotten architect Daniel Burnham, master park-designer Frederick Law Olmstead, magnetic serial killer Henry Holmes, and many others), and the always-interesting themes of sex, power, pride, fame, and so forth to tie them together. It's the story of how Chicago, still an unruly boomtown despite having just taken Philadelphia's place as America's second city, managed to win the honor of holding a World's Fair and execute its colossal plans with the help of leading geniuses like Burnham and Olmstead, while psychopaths like Holmes took advantage of the city's success to satisfy their murderous obsessions. I like how well-grounded in historical details the book is - stranger-than-fiction clichés aside, Holmes was a weird guy even by our jaded post-Manson standards, and Larson was able to present his research into his gruesomely meticulous murders in an amazingly natural style that keeps the tension high without losing sight of the facts. He's candid about what's verified and what's not, but even what's known is still some messed-up Dexter shit. A lesser writer might not have been able to balance the more mundane accounts of building plans, financing negotiations, and lawn arrangements against that kind of sensational story, but the architects' struggles to construct a world-beating fair in the shadow of the Paris expo are just as interesting in their own ways, and possibly even more if you're the kind of person who's interested in all the firsts of the fair (the Ferris wheel, chewing gum, the zipper). The fair was an important milestone not only for Chicago, which honors it with a star on its municipal flag, but also for the US, which proved it could compete with Europe in the arenas of art, progress, and vanity projects. That rapid growth brings problems of its own is a lesson that's well-taken; would that all lessons were as much fun to read as this book. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
It's definitely an original strategy to interweave a serial killer's career with the construction of the buildings for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and it works structurally. At the same time, it discolors my feelings about the glorious Columbia Exposition, a sad thing for this Chicagoan. ( )
  dcvance | May 4, 2021 |
The extraordinary events of the Chicago World Fair gave engaging content to do heavy-lifting when other aspects of the book failed. Larson has flair for drama, but a bad habit of neutering reveals by dragging them out. He kept asserting such hyper-specific and esoteric inner thoughts of historical figures that his writing felt like fabrication, not literary flourish. The format did little to serve the story: the choppy, alternating chapters between the Fair and serial murderer narratives never cohere/converge. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
I am torn about this book. I am going to refrain from a review until further notice. ( )
  MarlaBurr | Mar 14, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 616 (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 (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Larson, ErikAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldwyn, TonyNarratorsecondary 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.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
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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