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

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  274,828 ratings  ·  20,199 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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The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
1st out of 3,286 books — 5,286 voters
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Best Books of the Decade: 2000s
46th out of 4,983 books — 24,620 voters

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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
Seth Hahne
Apr 24, 2012 Seth Hahne rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
Aug 19, 2007 Kristy rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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

Aug 28, 2007 Jude rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Jul 09, 2009 Richard rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Jul 17, 2007 Maureen rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
Aug 25, 2008 Linda rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
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.
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
I feel as though I ought to write two (or three) reviews of this book, because it consists of two (or three) stories: the creation of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, the murders committed by H.H. Holmes, and (peripherally) the assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison.

Larson's narrative jumps back and forth between these stories, without ever connecting them, and so the book leaves one with a very disjointed feeling, a feeling that something was left out, something that would show a relationship
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
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
David Monroe
I read this book in 2005 as a library book after I saw it won the Edgar Award for best Best Fact Crime the year before. I own a copy, I re-read it last year.

My fascination with the World's Columbian Exhibition (1893 Chicago World's Fair) began when I went to work for the President Benjamin Harrison Home. Harrison, as President, commissioned the Fair. A formality really. The Fair began as a 400th Anniversary Celebration of Columbus landing in the Americas. It soon grew beyond that. Harrison atten
May 07, 2012 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mike by:
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America would probably rate 4 Stars for most but for me it got 5 White Stars on a black background. It rated higher because it taught me something about my hometown, which played a critical role in the 1893 World Expo in Chicago. The story revolves around the heroic effort to win the event and then build it. Intertwined with the creation of the dream of the Expo is a dark tale of an evil serial killer, preying upon ...more
4.0 to 4.5 stars. This fascinating book tells the story of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America. The book intertwines the true story of two men: Daniel Burnham, the chief architect and central figure behind the creation of the "White City" and H. H. Holmes, America's first "serial killer" who used the unique environment created by the Exposition to conduct his killings.

I found this book to be a
Diane D.
This was a very fun 'history lesson' book for me.

I very much enjoyed reading about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. I honestly don't know how they pulled it off, given all of the delays and obstacles that seemed unsurmountable. Not only political lags and drags, but the Chicago weather that Mother Nature threw in as well....

I found myself googling like crazy to see the most beautiful buildings that were constructed for the Fair. Even if you haven't read and don't plan to read this book, you sh
Beth F.
I was in fourth grade when I realized I was somewhat of a square peg that would never fit in with everybody else. This realization happened on the playground when another little girl with blonde hair informed me that I could never be friends with any of the popular people because I always wore sweaters and never sweatshirts.

I was hurt enough by the comment to remember it but also remember laughing a little bit because I liked wearing my sweaters. They were warm and soft and made me think of hap
Sep 12, 2009 Daniel rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Daniel by: Rose
Shelves: 2009, first-edition
"The Devil in the White City" isn't a bad pop-history book, but a good editor could have made it much better. The prose, especially in the early sections dealing with serial killer H.H. Holmes, leans toward the purplish: Holmes didn't just embrace his daughter, for example, but "entombed" her in his arms. Also, seemingly every niggling detail unearthed by author Erik Larson, whether or not it advances the story, is included.

"Devil"'s other major failing is that the two stories that comprise the
My summer assignment for my AP US History class was to read and annotate The Devil in the White City. If I hadn't had to take extensive notes on the historical aspects of this novel I might've liked it more, but, oh well.

Not to say that the history was trivial or erroneous. Rather, it was how Erik Larson conveyed the historical facts that bored me. The book is literally split into two stories: a group of architects building Chicago's World Fair, and a serial killer that goes by the name of Holme
The entire three years I lived in Chicago, I wanted to read this book, but never got around to it until the week that I moved. The Devil in the White City is nonfiction, but Erik Larson uses a style flows like a fictional narrative. It follows two men, Daniel Burnham and H. H. Holmes, during the World's Fair in the late 1800s. Burnham was the fair's chief architect, and Holmes was America's first serial killer, who used the fair to lure his victims to him.

Although I imagine I appreciated the boo
The first two comments in this thread-----

"Rather underwhelming, huh?"
"No doubt dude."

Harsh and direct, but fair. Emily Dickinson could be no more eloquent with 6 words.

Yes, the facts are there about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Yes, the facts are there about the serial killer psychopath, Dr. H. H. Holmes. And, yes, the two storylines are threaded together for an engaging, well-paced read. However, the book fell flat. It lacked verve, vitality, a clear crescendo. Erik Larsen has certainly d
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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...
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History Thunderstruck Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun

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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.” 42 likes
“I must confess a shameful secret: I love Chicago best in the cold.” 36 likes
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