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

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3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  344,518 Ratings  ·  25,480 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 CD, 447 pages
Published August 7th 2007 by Random House Audio (first published 2003)
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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)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jason
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
...more
Madeline
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
...more
Seth T.
Sep 11, 2008 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
...more
Danielle
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
David - proud Gleeman in Branwen's adventuring party
For me, reviewing this book is similar to trying to review any Nicolas Cage movie from the past 20 years, in that if I was asked if Cage's over-the-top performance was the best thing or the worst thing about the movie, I could only answer...
"Yes!"

(Pictured - one of Nicolas Cage's more subdued performances; Not pictured - sanity)

If you were to ask me my favorite thing about this book, I would immediately answer, "Erik Larson's writing style!"

This book is mostly talked about for the portions pert
...more
Henry Avila
Mar 25, 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
James
Apr 02, 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
Jonathan Ashleigh
Nov 10, 2015 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
...more
Lobstergirl
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
Dem
Mar 10, 2017 Dem rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Extremely well written and researched, unsettling, entertaining, educational and fascinating are all words that come to mind on finishing Eric Larson's book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 was a remarkable achievement for the city of Chicago and it's architect Daniel H. Burnham and while the city was celebrating and enjoying this new wonder of the world, another man by the name of H.H. Holmes, a handsome and
...more
Carol
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

...more
Jim Fonseca
Feb 07, 2016 Jim Fonseca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
A fascinating book and an easy read. Chapter by chapter, in simple chronological order, the author juxtaposes preparations for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with the doings of one of the country’s first serial murders.

From the Fair’s chapters we learned how Chicago’s boosterism won it the fair from other competitors including Washington and New York. Construction was last-minute and in panic mode, but it got done. There’s a lot about Frederick Law Olmstead who was in charge of park design but h
...more
Victoria Schwab
Apr 30, 2016 Victoria Schwab rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly compelling.
Kristy
Aug 12, 2007 Kristy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Jason Koivu
Nov 04, 2011 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 desired...you filthy degenerate, you!

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

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...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
...more
Jaidee
3 "fascinating but somehow lacking" stars

2015 Most Average of Average Award

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed this book quite a bit. This was history made accessible but almost too accessible and readable to the detriment of depth and perhaps some additional analysis.

This is a book that ties together (rather loosely) the development and execution of the Chicago World Fair in the 1890s and a sociopathic doctor serial-killer. The stories were not treated equally and at times the emphasis on the desig
...more
Carol
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.
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Glenn Sumi
Jan 22, 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,
...more
Jude
Mar 30, 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
...more
Richard
Jun 03, 2009 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
...more
Maureen
Jul 12, 2007 Maureen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Maxwell
Nov 11, 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.
...more
Amanda
Nov 19, 2008 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
...more
Elyse
Jul 29, 2014 Elyse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!!!

FASTASTIC STORYTELLING!!!!
Matthew Quann
Being a card-carrying member of a book club can be a treacherous commitment. I'm currently part of two book clubs/reading groups and some of the novels have taken me to the heights of literature, while others have been gruelling treks through the bowels of literature (Thomas Pynchon's novels have found their way into both categories). You run serious risk in a book club: you put hours of valuable reading time into someone else's hands and hope that they are gentle with you. Of course, the reward ...more
Celeste
Nov 29, 2016 Celeste rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Full review now posted below!

Every time I hesitantly open a non-fiction book I think, “Maybe this time. Maybe I won’t hate this one.” And every time, I’m wrong. On the one hand, since History is one half of my dual B.A. Degree, I find the material interesting and respect the research that went into writing a book like The Devil in the White City. A book such as this one required tremendous time and dedication to write. How could I not respect that level of effort? On the other hand, I was bored
...more
Linda
Jun 19, 2008 Linda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
J.L.   Sutton
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
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
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  • Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris
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  • A Thousand Lives
  • The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century
  • The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America
  • Shadow Divers
  • The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma
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  • Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy
  • The Children's Blizzard
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
  • For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago
  • Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63
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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.” 60 likes
“I must confess a shameful secret: I love Chicago best in the cold.” 50 likes
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