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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  330,001 Ratings  ·  24,482 Reviews
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, ...more
Audio Cassette, Abridged, 447 pages
Published February 11th 2003 by Random House Audio Publishing Group (first published October 17th 2002)
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Lita I agree with Jan. An older teen may be prepared for the material in this book, but the book describes some sordid details on murders and the selling…moreI agree with Jan. An older teen may be prepared for the material in this book, but the book describes some sordid details on murders and the selling and disposal of bodies. Fourteen is probably young for this material. In addition, the author's approach to writing the book, interspersing parallel threads of narrative for multiple principal characters, may tax the attention of a young teen. I suspect that some adults might tire of the constantly shifting narratives. (less)

Community Reviews

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This book is two, two, two books in one!

Sorry, that was annoying. But it’s almost as if Erik Larson wrote two really short books—one about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and another about the murder spree of Dr. H. H. Holmes—and then shoved them together to create a single story. The result isn’t bad, and I think Larson is successful at maintaining clean seams between the two narratives, but it’s hard to argue these two occurrences are anything but abstractedly related. Yes, Holmes lived
Jun 12, 2013 Madeline rated it liked it
Poor Erik Larson.

He wanted to write an extensive, in-depth look at the 1893 World's Fair, which was a collaboration of some of the greatest creative minds in the country (including the guy who designed the Flatiron building in New York and Walt Disney's dad) and gave us, among other things, the Ferris Wheel, the zipper, shredded wheat, and Columbus Day. The entire venture was almost a disaster, with delays, petty fighting, bad weather, and more delays, but it was ultimately a massive success and
Seth T.
Apr 24, 2012 Seth T. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone, really
Humour me and please allow the channeling an eighth grader for just a moment. OMG Squeee!!1 Teh best!! (Would an eighth grader say "teh best"?) And now we return you to our regularly scheduled review.

I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction. Scratch that. I'm a huge fan of non-fiction, but not so huge a fan of reading non-fiction. While I appreciate learning and broadening my understanding of the world around and as it once was, I find myself pretty quickly distracted from whatever non-fictional work I
So, no offense to those that liked this book, but I'm throwing in the towel after 75 pages. It's just not holding my interest. Part of the reason for this is that Larson's writing style is way too speculative for my taste in non-fiction. I just finished reading the Path Between Seas by David McCullough, and he does such an amazing job of making complicated, historical events interesting, without fabricating scenes that "could have" happened. Even that wouldn't have bothered me that much if Lars ...more
Apr 07, 2008 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Heard the one about the architect and the serial killer? It's not a bad joke, but it is a great book. The architect was Daniel Burnham, the driving force behind the Chicago World's Fair of 1893; the killer was H.H. Holmes, a Svengali-type figure who lured young women to his hotel and did the most gruesome things, the least shocking of which was murder. The two men never met, but The Devil in the White City brings their stories together, and although it reads like a novel, everything is thoroughl ...more
Larson could be the worst nonfiction writer working in America today. When he notes that "[Frederick Law] Olmsted was no literary stylist. Sentences wandered through the report like morning glory through the pickets of a fence" he might as well be describing himself. It's painful to make your way through his books. The melodrama is over the top. He'll go on for several pages about some unnamed person, attempting to heighten the "mystery," and anyone who graduated second grade will quickly realiz ...more
Henry Avila
Oct 01, 2016 Henry Avila rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The White City rises above the lake, like a fantasy from another time that never existed, but the eyes do not deceive, this image is real, bright lights glow at night, millions of respectful , quiet , mesmerized people look and walk by, the moon shines and reflects on the gigantic white buildings and glittering waters, magic drapes all...The Chicago World's Fair of 1893, arguably the greatest one in history, the citizens of this metropolis, the second city of the nation need to show everyone tha ...more
Victoria Schwab
May 16, 2016 Victoria Schwab rated it it was amazing
Utterly compelling.
Aug 19, 2007 Kristy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Ohhhh, this book is creeeeeepy and all-true!!! Being from Chicago I was in an awful thrall the entire time. The only thing that was missing for me would have been some kind of map to show where exactly the Fair was located, and all the other buildings he talks about... I think the fair was probably located roughly on what the Museum Campus is now, but I still would like to see a map.

And the people! Burnham and Root and Atwood... and Carter Henry Harrison! It says his mansion was on Ashland, I'm
Jason Koivu
May 19, 2014 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The Devil in the White City is one of those enticing little books in which you know what you're going to get, yet you read it anyway, and it delivers all the salacious excitement you filthy degenerate, you!

Amid of all the magnificence and enchantment of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair...


...a doctor lured countless victims from the 27 million people who attended the fair into his "Murder Castle." His evasive trail is followed and his horrid deeds recorded, all intertwined with the oft
This is really a great read filled with meticulously researched historical facts and notable people of the time. Even Helen Keller made an appearance at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair! Alternating chapters educate the reader about the enormous undertaking and time constraints of building "The White City" combined with the daily bloodthirsty activities of serial killer Herman Webster Mudgett aka Dr. H. H. Holmes.

Reading about B. H. Burnham's construction of the fair during a time of deadly disease

Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 22, 2016 Jonathan Ashleigh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recent
I was genuinely excited to get back into this story every time I picked it up. At times, this jumble of factual events felt like a tale I would contrive while wandering aimlessly around Wikipedia (even though Erik Larson says he did not get information from the internet because, apparently all, data found on the internet is questionable).

Most of the dramatic facts this book will tell you show up near the top of the internet, and many are proclaimed at a bars when someone lets everyone know wher
Will Byrnes
Feb 20, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 28, 2007 Jude rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pretty much everyone.
My daily life is filled with non-fiction: facts that are collected to give information quickly and easily to a reader. When I read for enjoyment, I usually gravitate toward fiction.

I didn't realize this book was non-fiction when I bought it. I bought it because it came recommended from Katie, who has good book taste and hasn't steered me down the wrong path yet. When I read the back cover before beginning, I thought: what the hell did I get myself into?

Surprisingly, I found myself immediately h
Glenn Sumi
Dec 28, 2015 Glenn Sumi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
My expectations were high for this book of popular history, but I wasn't disappointed.

The Devil In The White City is an entertaining and informative look at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, which despite many obstacles – lack of time and money, natural disasters, a bad economy, pressure to top Paris’s fair, which introduced the iconic Eiffel Tower – got completed and proceeded to make international headlines and change the country.

Larson tells the stories of two self-made obsessives: Daniel Burnham,
Feb 15, 2016 Richard rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Booze & Books bookclub
The Devil in the White City is a book about the White City — the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and a book about a devil — a psychopathic serial killer.

I enjoyed both books here, but wasn't pleased with the author's decision to try to integrate them into one book.

If they had been separate, they each would have probably earned four stars — perhaps five. The White City half certainly dealt with a fascinating cast of characters, architecture was skyrocketing in importance, and Chicago was a hotbed of a
Nov 20, 2015 Maxwell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2015
This is a pretty famous book, but not one that's particularly been on my radar. But I was listening to my favorite podcast as of late, Lore, and there was an episode about this story, of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and H. H. Holmes the murderer who used the venue to lure in vulnerable victims. It fascinated me, and it reminded me of this book I'd heard of. So I checked it out, and I'm SO glad I did. This is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2015.

Now I know this book won't be for everyone.
Jul 17, 2007 Maureen rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people interested in Chicago, architecture & city planning, serial killers, foreshadowing
I enjoyed Devil in the White City, particularly for the wealth of information (tons of great trivia!) in this novel-style nonfiction book. I probably would have appreciated it more, though, if I were from Chicago, a city planner or architect, or had a fascination with serial killers.

What was by far the most irksome for me was Larson's insistence on foreshadowing absolutely every character introduction and happening in the book. Some are clever, but this "one day, he would make headlines"-style b
Oct 15, 2013 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, blog
A brief list of things that generally don't strike my fancy: architecture, the Gilded Age, landscape design, metropolitan cities, politics (of the historical kind), and serial killers. So, for a novel that exclusively focuses on all of these things, the very fact that I made it through and maintained mild interest is quite extraordinary. However, my interest never really piqued above "mild" and, hence, the three star rating.

The Devil in the White City is really two stories: the planning and buil
Excellent history lesson!!

This book captured my attention from page 1. I enjoyed reading about many of the influential people who made this great nation what it is today. I learned so much more than when I was a student. On the flip side, I was horrified by the murders committed by Holmes and how much of an evil character he was.
Aug 25, 2008 Linda rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: history buffs, architecture buffs, true crime readers
A friend suggested this book and I thought perhaps it would be similar to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which I thoroughly enjoyed---historical with a story woven into it. However, I was unfortunately unable to finish it. I think Goodreads needs a new category...."got bored, so I gave up". This book weaves together the true story of 2 men, an architect and a serial killer---with the Chicago World's Fair as the background. I think it was the voluminous details given about the difficulty ...more
Jan 29, 2015 Brandon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, there’s this scene in David Fincher's Zodiac in which Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Robert Graysmith, visits the home of someone he believes to be the famed Zodiac killer. As Graysmith ventures down in the suspect’s basement, there’s this sense of dread that’s instilled in the viewer as they wonder if Graysmith will make it out alive. As Fincher lets the tension escalate and the claustrophobia rise, Graysmith grows frantic and escapes the first chance he gets. There have been movies in the pa ...more
Laurie Anderson
Jan 27, 2016 Laurie Anderson rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I read this when it first came out 12 years ago and remembered only the part about the "Devil" - the serial killer who went by the name H.H. Holmes and murdered single women who stayed at his hotel to see the ginormous Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

For this re-read, I listened to the audio version of the book. I don't know if because I'm 12 years smarter, or maybe my ears read better than my eyes, but I got SO MUCH more out of the book this time.

In fact, while I came away with a vast quantity of
Nov 30, 2015 Connie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The architect Daniel Hudson Burnham directed the building of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. The neoclassical buildings were transformed into a White City after they were spray painted white and illuminated with 200,000 incandescent bulbs. Burnham used the skills of the best architects in the country, along with the work of Frederick Law Olmstead for the landscape, in the creation of the World's Fair. Geroge Washington Gale Ferris developed the first "Ferris Wheel"--a huge wheel that would car ...more
Amy Sturgis
I understand why readers like this book. I honestly do. The subject matter is fascinating. Erik Larson focuses on the "White City" (the challenging creation and ultimate success of the 1893 World's Fair) and the "Black City" (the gruesome serial killings of H.H. "The Devil Is In Me" Holmes and, to a lesser extent, the assassination of mayor Carter Henry Harrison, Sr. by the deranged Patrick Eugene Prendergast), two sides of the city of Chicago at the sunset of the nineteenth century. I learned q ...more
J.L.   Sutton
Oct 19, 2015 J.L. Sutton rated it liked it
Oreos deep fried in pancake batter…Erik Larson’s writing, like novelty food updated from the Chicago World’s Fair (Cracker Jack, Shredded Wheat and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum) sparkles with new tastes and delights. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed the World features intertwining stories of the creation of the world’s fair and the serial killer H.H. Holmes. Of particular interest is how the fair shows the changing character of America at the turn of t ...more
This book fails in nearly every way. It fails ...

... as History -- The book's cover categorizes Eric Larson's The Devil in the White City as History. And Larson takes pains to claim this category in his note, "Evils Imminent," placing his book squarely in the realm of fact: "However strange or macabre some of the following events seem," he writes, "this is not a work of fiction (xi)." But this is not an history book. While it does relate a skeletal story of historical events, there is little of
Aug 04, 2014 Elyse rated it it was amazing
Page Turning phenomenal!

I took notes on my iphone to remind myself of 'gems' to 'share/write' about -- but there are 'at least' 2,000 'already' wonderful reviews --WELL DESERVING-- about this amazing TRUE STORY --I've not much more to add.

The building of the Worlds Fair was fascinating ---(all the details -and the challenges were incredible, engaging-interesting, and exquisite!

'Holmes' --(the killer), was just CREEPY!!!

Ashley *Hufflepuff Kitten*
Historical Fictionistas group read December 2015!

Larson deserves five stars for research ALONE. Gah. Coupled with his own skill at fleshing everything out so that it reads like a thriller novel is bonus, because this book was so easy to fall into. I'll admit that in the beginning Holmes' story interested me more than the 1893 World's Fair, but by the end I was equally wrapped up in both sagas and the way they intertwined with each other. There is SO MUCH detail in this book that it's incredible
Apr 30, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating! I grew up in Chicago and each year we had a brief unit in school on the city's history: Carl Sandburg, The Jungle, railroads, Native Americans. But we never once touched on the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (aka the World Fair) and I knew nothing at all about this amazing feat or the people involved until I read Larson's book.

I can't believe such an important time -- both for the city and the nation -- which introduced so much to American society has been so forgotten. Larson di
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Erik Larson, author of the international bestseller Isaac's Storm, was nominated for a National Book Award for The Devil in the White City, which also won an Edgar Award for fact-crime writing. His latest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, has been acquired for publication in 20 countries and optioned by Tom Hanks for a feature film. Erik is a for ...more
More about Erik Larson...

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“It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root. This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.” 58 likes
“I must confess a shameful secret: I love Chicago best in the cold.” 49 likes
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