The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Book - 2013
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In The Devil in the White City, the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's 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 fairgrounds--a 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. 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.

To find out more about this book, go to
Publisher: Random House Digital, 2013.
Edition: Unabridged
ISBN: 9780739353011
Branch Call Number: eAudio
Additional Contributors: Axis 360 (Firm)


From Library Staff

Title to be discussed on October 13th, 2018

Lorie - Well researched historical true crime.

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JCLLynnW Mar 04, 2014

This a spell-binding story about -intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair, an famous architect and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Recommended for seniors and book clubs.

A true account that reads like a historical mystery, Erik Larson's masterwork deserves to be ready by everyone. At the same time dozens of America's premiere architects are creating the 1983 Chicago World's Fair, across town a brooding killer plans to use the fair to capture his victims. Chilling... Read More »

Erik Larson tells a spellbinding non-fiction narrative of two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his work, that embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the forces of good and evil.

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Dec 01, 2018

This work of non-fiction contains 2 real-life stories that both happened at about the same time in Chicago in 1893 during that city's World's Fair celebration.

By far, the story covering the activities of Dr. Holmes is the most interesting of the two. Believe me, this guy was a real monster like you could never imagine.

How many people this "devil" actually killed (which includes children) is estimated somewhere between 27 and 200 in all.

This is a very well-researched book that holds the reader's attention for the most part.

IndyPL_MikeH Nov 07, 2018

Two stories take place here. 1) The magic is in the Herculean efforts in creating the "White City" of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
2) The murder and madness involve a killer. I'll skip that part next time.

Hillsboro_RobP Nov 05, 2018

As good as the story of Chicago's World's Fair is, it's very much overshadowed by the horror of Holmes. Sometimes I still think back on this book and hate that guy.

This is an excellent chronicle of the young windy city, and the best example of Larson's habit of pulling together two loosely related subjects actually working.

Nov 02, 2018

This book is basically about two men who know so much and architected the world’s fair in like the 1900’s. And there’s a character name burnham and he sacrificed so much for his 3 kids to get them out of chicago and to move them to a better place to live. The feeling I had when I was reading this book was joy because he didn't have to sacrifice what he had going on to protect his kids from the bad streets in chicago. And i also think this book is appropriate for someone older than thirteen and up because there's a lot going on in this book for an average thirteen year old to understand. Also this book is a historical non-fiction and this book has 447 pages. I recommend this book because i made a lot of connection to the book and maybe you can too.

Oct 23, 2018

This book has it all: murder! mayhem! industrialists? architecture??

Larson marries the ambitious story of Chicago's ambitious bid for the World's Fair with the adjacent horror of H.H. Holmes infamous hotel. The author weaves together the adjacent stories with deft prose that is a delight and fascination to the reader. Fair warning: Holmes was a monster and his story is appropriately monstrous.

Aug 02, 2018

What a fascinating tale! Larson brilliantly puts history in context while weaving for us a spellbinding story from our past. The saying is so true: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Human nature remains a constant. I loved learning about the fair, all of the wonders that were present there -- like Juicy Fruit gum -- and the influence the architecture choices had on cities afterward. When reading books like this, it is such a treat to see all the lives that intersect, for example the famous women who were at the fair: Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony and Annie Oakley to name a few. The part H.H. Holmes played is diabolical and I cannot believe I have never heard of him before. He makes Jack the Ripper look like a rank amateur. Highly recommended!

Apr 07, 2018

Erik Larson's uncanny ability to weave seemingly disparate personalities (Louis Sullivan,
Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, psychopathic serial killer H.H. Holmes) in a larger than life
historical setting (1893 Chicago Word's Fair) always amazes me. Based on real events, this book is a suspenseful, page-turning thriller. Probably the favorite of the three Erik Larson
books I have read, so far.

Mar 28, 2018

This Book review is on a book called The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson. Its a non-fiction book about the Chicagos World Fair in 1893. The main charecter in this book are H.H. Holmes and Daniel Hudson Burnham. Holmes and Burnham seem very simalar on the outside but on the inside they are very different. Holmes is a very cunning man with charm and Burnham is a man that loves the work he does.
While I was reading the book sometimes it felt boring during Burnhams chapters. During Holmes chapter it was much more intresting and it made me want to keep reading through the boring parts. I say this because during Holmes parts he would lure woman into his life and then make them dissaper abbruptly. I remember reading that he suffocated his wife with a rag covered in chloroform. I have not read any other books by this author. I have not read any other books with this type of theme.
I would recommend this book to anyone that has alot of patience and time because Burnham’s chapters are alot longer than Holmes’s. I would say this book is for mature adiences or anyone looking for a mystery murder type of book.

CRRL_MegRaymond Feb 21, 2018

1893. The World’s Columbian Exposition, also known at the Chicago World’s Fair. The “White City” was an amazing feat of engineering, entertainment, and discovery. It was also a great place for an enterprising serial killer like Henry H. Holmes.

Jan 30, 2018

Reminded me a lot of The Boys In the Boat. Tremendous research, well-written, name intensive... at times put me to sleep, but I am a better person for reading this. Seriously it is amazing how much of US history is tied into the World Fair of 1893. Definitely recommend to read before it hits the big screens.

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Brenda74 Nov 12, 2012

Brenda74 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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notTom Dec 16, 2010

Between majestic architecture and cold-blooded murder, the early 1890's were a defining period for the city of Chicago. The Colombian Exposition of 1893 (the World's Fair of 1893, so named to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's landing in America) proved that Chicago could put its elbows on the table of the world's greatest cities. It hugely impacted the course of American history through its influence on technology, architecture, and the popular conscience. This book weaves together the stories of Daniel Burnham, a prominent architect in charge of planning the Exposition, and Herman Webster Mudgett, better known to history as H.H.Holmes, America's first serial killer. Opening a hotel just down the Midway from the fair, Holmes was ensured of a constant flow of trusting young women. What his ill-fated guests did not realize was the presence of air-tight rooms with gas-jets, a greased body chute and the basement containing vats of acid and a crematorium. In the style of Truman Capote, this is a non-fiction novel, a gripping account of deeds of great and evil men alike, made all the more interesting because these events really happened.


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Aug 06, 2015

"With its gorgeous classical buildings packed with art, its clean water and electric lights, and its overstaffed police department, the exposition was Chicago's conscience, the city it wanted to become."


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