The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

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

Book - 2004
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This New York Times bestseller intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

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.

Publisher: New York : Vintage Books, 2004, c2003.
Edition: 1st Vintage Books ed.
ISBN: 9780375725609
Branch Call Number: 364.1523 Larson
Characteristics: xi, 447 p. :,ill., maps ;,21 cm.


From Library Staff

List - Weird History
JCLAlisonS May 09, 2019

Take a deep dive into the planning of the World's Fair and how it manifested into a grand spectacle - all while one of America's most prolific serial killers was using the site as his hunting grounds.

Hulu, 2019: 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 gif... Read More »

Title to be discussed on October 13th, 2018

Lorie - Well researched historical true crime.

List - My Ideal Bookshelf
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.

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Jun 29, 2020

Oh my god. This was all real? Yes it was. Certainly captured here is the Naked City aspect of Chicago. This serial killer was a trip. But the people and things inhabiting this time are also a bit of the legend variety. It's enough to make one believe in fairies & demons. There is a kind of beauty to the moment and without a doubt evil. You might look for princes & princesses in donut shops under the veneer after reading this because they must be there.

Jun 14, 2020

Erik Larson is a talented author who blesses us with non-fiction history that reads like a novel. 'Devil in the White City' is rich in detail, dripping in history and blood. Extra special for me as my great-grandfather emigrated from Denmark during the World's Fair and lived and worked in Chicago during the Colombian Exposition. I could only imagine what he, a 17-year-old teenager, thought of America, his new country, with the splendor of the fair and the crimes of a serial killer. Anyone who loves history should read the works of Erik Larson.

May 13, 2020

If you are looking for a fast-paced psychological thriller, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for an in-depth history lesson that focuses on the significance of the Chicago World Fair, with small glimpses into the life of H.H.Holmes - you've come to the right place. This book while interesting is very... dense. It is not something I could sit and read for hours on end. It could have been my own misunderstanding, but I expected more Holmes and less descriptive politics and self-loathing architects. I skimmed more than I would like to admit, but I would venture to say the book storyline is 80% World Fair problems and 20% H.H.Holmes murder mystery.

May 13, 2020

#3 Larson read of the pandemic

Apr 29, 2020

Not a fan. I felt misled by some of the reviews that this was a "nail-biting" riveting page-turner. It moved quite slowly - I skimmed over some parts (seriously, do I care about the menu from a dinner party?). I did learn a lot about the architects and the construction aspects of the Columbian Exhibition; but (yawn) it was definitely not the suspenseful murder mystery I was expecting. Oh and let's not forget the multiple pages devoted to the effects of the weather on the fair and the various maladies afflicting Mr. Olmstead -- if that sounds exciting to you, read and enjoy! I'm sorry to sound negative -- I do appreciate the author's great attention to research.

Apr 19, 2020

Am I the only person who did not care for this book? I found it boring and dragging on and on in never ending detail. I might as well have lived it for how long it took to read. And, who cares about all those people in the beginning who have NOTHING to do with the tale itself. What a waste of time this was. I kept thinking it would get better, but it did not...just dragged on and on and on....

Mar 07, 2020

Jenn recommended

ArapahoePatrick Feb 03, 2020

A compelling history of the Chicago Worlds Fair from two wildly distinct personalities who made the fair the notorious and momentous event that it is remembered as. It is a refreshingly readable account for a non fiction history, but for those used to true crime it may feel a little dry.

Dec 17, 2019

Globe celebrity picks 2019 from Robin Doolittle

Nov 08, 2019

This work of non-fiction contains two real-life stories that both happened at about the same time in Chicago, Illinois, USA (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 rapt attention for the most part.

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Feb 05, 2020

"We can't have little vines and weeds enough,'" - Fredrick Law Olmstead to John Olmstead May 19, 1892, landscape planner for Chicago World's Fair page 172

loerac Jan 23, 2019

Great read, non stop reading.

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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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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