The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

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

Book - 2003
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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, N.Y. : Crown Publishers, [2003]
Edition: First edition First Vintage Books edition.
ISBN: 9780375725609
Branch Call Number: 364.1523 L3292D
Characteristics: xi, 447 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

An account of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 relates the stories of two men who shaped the history of the event--architect Daniel H. Burnham, who coordinated its construction, and serial killer Herman Mudgett.

An account of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 relates the stories of two men who shaped the history of the event--architect Daniel H. Burnham, who coordinated its construction, and serial killer Herman Mudgett.

From the critics

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May 17, 2019

5. Too detailed and technical.

Mar 25, 2019

This book went into amazing detail on the Chicago World's Fair. It was well written, but many times included enough details to make the book feel slow. It is a great book for a research project, but I would not recommend it otherwise. Some things though that I got out is the knowledge of how extreme murders often can be. It still makes me cringe to think about how Holmes murdered people, including children. Also, it never occurred to me all the planning and extreme labor that went into the fair years before it was finished. I would recommend this book if you want extensive knowledge on the World's Fair, but otherwise it is a bit slow.

IndyPL_MikeH Feb 16, 2019

Comment: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.

Dec 17, 2018

I did not particularly care for this book. I was hoping that there would be more focus on H.H. Holmes, and less on the monotony of building the site of the World Fair.

The parts dedicated to Holmes were compelling and gritty, but the tone was far dryer than I enjoy. Extreme history buffs and lovers of architecture will adore this book, but True Crime fans will be left wanting.

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.

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.

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Feb 28, 2019

This was a great book. This book not only talks about H.H. Homes's life before and during the World Fair, but it also talks about the construction of the World Fair. It doesn't matter if you're into the architecture, or if you're into Holmes's "Murder Castle". This is a great book that gives an insight on many things having to do with the World Fair. There's something in this book for people of many different walks of life. If you're into old Chicago, great! H.H. Holmes? Great! The World Fair? Learn about it! Architecture? Learn about location and struggles found in architecture! This book is worth a read if you have the time.

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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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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