Read The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, Madness, at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson Tony Goldwyn Online


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,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, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are both revealed through Larson's skillful writing. - John Moe...

Title : The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, Madness, at the Fair that Changed America
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ISBN : 9780739323595
Format Type : Audio CD
Number of Pages : 15 Pages
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The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, Madness, at the Fair that Changed America Reviews

  • Jason
    2019-02-14 16:53

    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 in Chicago at the time of the fair and lured a bunch of people to his murder castle (he be snatchin’ yo’ people up!), but the events didn’t weigh heavily on the fair itself or on the atmosphere surrounding it. No alarm bells went off anywhere in Chicago as a result of his, um, unsavory indiscretions.Still, there is a lot of interesting stuff here, information specific to the world’s fair, and it is fun to learn new things. For example, the Chicago Columbian Exposition exudes a long list of firsts: it saw the invention of the world’s first ferris wheel, it led the nation in its first public observance of the Pledge of Allegiance, and it helped to establish alternating current as the industry standard for electricity distribution. Even that awful snake charmer song has its origins in the Chicago World’s Fair.While writing this review, I’ve come to learn that Leonardo DiCaprio, that beautiful man with the screaming cherry tomato head on a toothpick body, is producing the film adaptation, and will also play the role of serial killer H. H. Holmes. For this I am pleased.

  • Madeline
    2019-02-13 20:26

    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 helped make the city of Chicago what it is today. Here's what it must have looked like when Larson pitched his idea for the book:Larson: "And the fair didn't go flawlessly - towards the end of the fair, the mayor of Chicago was assassinated by a crazy guy, and there were tons of disappearances over the course of the fair, and a lot of them were probably the work of this serial killer who had opened a hotel near the fairgrounds - Editor: "Wait, serial killer? And it's connected to the fair? Cool, let's try to include that in the book. Also the crazy assassin sounds good, too."Larson: "No, the killer - H.H. Holmes - really wasn't connected to the fair at all. I mean, he used the fair as a way to collect victims, but he would have killed tons of people even without it. In fact, after the fair he moved on and kept murdering people, so the fair really didn't have any effect on his methods..."Editor: "Doesn't matter! How about you alternate between chapters about the fair and chapters about Holmes killing people?"Larson: "But I don't really know much about that. Nobody does - Holmes never admitted to killing all those people, even after the police found human remains in his basement. I don't really know any actual details about the killings."Editor: "That's okay, you can just make it up. I'll give you some trashy crime novels to read, that'll give you some ideas. Now tell me more about the assassination."Larson: "He was just some mentally unbalanced person who thought he deserved a position in the mayor's office and shot the guy when he realized it wasn't going to happen. But the death cast a pall over the entire closing ceremony of the fair, and it - "Editor: "Good, let's sprinkle in some bits about the crazy guy throughout the book, too. Now, back to Holmes: did he maybe kill somebody at the fair, or did they find a body on the grounds or something?"Larson: "No, the Chicago police didn't even notice anything was happening. It wasn't until he left Chicago that a detective from another state tracked him down."Editor: "Okay, so we'll make the end of the book about the manhunt for Holmes and his capture."Larson: "What does any of this have to do with the World's Fair?"Editor: "Hell if I know. You're the writer, not me - you figure it out. Here's a check. Now go make me a bestseller!"Four stars for the World's Fair stuff, two stars for the pulpy unrelated bullshit.

  • Seth T.
    2019-01-21 14:30

    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 pick up. The fact is: most writers of non-fiction are more experts in their field of study than they are expert authors. They deliver the goods well, but aren't quite as adept at prettying them up for consumption.Erik Larson, however, is a genius. Or something. I could not put this book down. (In the figurative sense—it actually took me about two weeks to read.) The entire length of my time in this book was marked with moments of in which I would stop reading, interrupt my wife from the depths of her studies, and remark again how good this book was. (I'm sure that she would have been happier had Larson just been your average purveyor of non-fictionalizations.)In The Devil in the White City, Larson chronicles chiefly a tale of two city-dwellers. Architect, Daniel Burnham and pharmacist, Henry Holmes. One would helm the creation of a wonderland of awe-striking beauty and refinement. The other would become one of America's earliest and most diabolical serial killers. All this against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. the Chicago World's Fair).Daniel Burnham, the self-made architect, who designed the Rookery in Chicago would design the Flatiron Building in New York, assembled a team of the best American architects of the day for the task of crafting a World's Fair in Chicago that would be even more exquisite than the one held in Paris years earlier. The Paris Exposition had also unveiled Gustave Eiffel's incredible tower, so Burnham put a call out to American engineering: something grander would have to be proposed and built. National reputation was at stake as well as civic pride. Larson explores in exciting detail the glories and the tragedies of this great endeavor.In contrast to this paean to human ingenuity and spirit, Larson focuses the other half of his narrative on a man as diligent in his chosen task as Burnham was in his. H.H. Holmes, the self-style pharmacist, who killed upwards of twenty-seven (mostly young women, fresh to the city), built for himself a hideous parody of the grand buildings that the world would soon celebrate. Bit by bit, he crafted what would later be known as his murder castle, a hotel whose ground floor hosted several businesses and whose other floors would boast far more sinister use. The second and third floors contained numerous rooms and hallways and secret compartments and switches. Airtight rooms with gas outlets. Walk-in vaults purpose not for keeping out but for keeping in. And a slicked chute to the basement where a kiln, acid, and limepits awaited. Holmes was handsome and charming in a way that made him irresistible to women. He was also a psychopath who would turn the American attention far too late.Larson, as a chronicler, is top notch. He entertains even as he educates. And he leaves just enough narrative tension to compel the reader along his path. Larson knows how to keep enough information back to avoid rendering the latter half of his book naught but excruciating anti-climax. The Devil in the White City is certainly an accomplishment and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.If forced to, I will admit* two quibbles with the book: 1) I was thirsty for more pictures and wanted desperately to see these buildings that Burnham and company were so busied upon; and 2) on the whole Larson keeps his voice clean of any emotive spots not merited by the characters themselves, but there were two moments when I was sure I was hearing Larson's voice beam through (it could have been worse—at least those two moments were funny).*note: see what I did there? You didn't actually have to force me.

  • Danielle
    2019-01-17 15:27

    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 readingthe 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 Larson had said something more like, "It's likely he did this, since we know this about his personality" or whatever, rather than "He reached out and touched her hand as he spoke to her." There was no clear distinction between what definitely happened, and what maybe could have happened. That got bothersome.I could have just ignored the non-fiction aspect and enjoyed the story, if not for Larson's habit of getting bogged down in inconsequential details. He seemed to throw facts (or conjectured facts) in whenever the fancy struck him, rather than keeping the story moving.And finally, I got annoyed with the jumping back and forth between Holmes's story and the architecture/Worlds Fair story. Just when I'd get into one, we'd switch to the other. He could have done a better job of interweaving those.So, since my curiosity is piqued, but not enough to continue reading this book, I'm just going to do some Wikipedia reading and call it good.

  • Jim Fonseca
    2019-02-14 20:46

    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 he was elderly, in poor health, and struggling to stay on top of the project. A lot of the focus is on the lead architect and fair planner, Daniel Burnham, and construction of the “White City,” as the classical buildings came to be known. The serial killer was H. H. Holmes, a pharmacist who capitalized on the World’s Fair by building a hotel. It had special rooms in the basement to kill his victims and dispose of their bodies in a gas oven. Mostly his victims were young women but he was an equal opportunity killer, murdering some men and children as well – at least 20 victims but maybe many more. The author spares us most of the gory details. Once you get into it, it’s hard to believe this story is NON-fiction as the author insists on telling us, but all the events really are from diaries, letters, newspapers and police reports. Fascinating, with a lot of local color of the Windy City in that era.

  • David - proud Gleeman in Branwen's adventuring party
    2019-01-29 14:28

    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 pertaining to one of America's first serial killers, Dr. H. H. Holmes. In fact, when the greenlit movie adaptation by Martin Scorsese was recently announced, it focused primarily on the casting of Holmes. Yet, more time is spent in the book detailing the history of the 1893 World's Fair, particularly architect Daniel Burnham's struggles in trying to get everything finished in time for the Fair's opening. I'm actually not much of a history buff, so I feared the "true crimeless" segments of the book wouldn't hold my interest, but I'm happy to announce that I was wrong. Larson's wit made even some of the dryer parts of the novel entertaining, and he even manages to build suspense when he's raising questions we may already know the answer to, like what engineering marvel would the Fair's organizer's decide on to hopefully rival the Eiffel Tower unveiled at France's world fair? As for the segments detailing Dr. H. H. Holmes and his grotesque crimes, this is where Larson's writing really shines. Instead of treating this strictly as a historical account ("and then this happened, and then this happened...), Larson actually writes these moments in the style of a thriller. He gets into Holmes head with the same prowess that Thomas Harris used to make Hannibal Lecter continue to chill our bones long after we had put the book down. There were times I almost forgot I was even reading a nonfiction book, as in these moments Larson's novel read more like something we'd expect to find in the horror section.Which is why if you were to ask me what my least-favorite thing about this book was, I would immediately answer, "Erik Larson's writing style!"Bet you didn't see that coming, eh? That was a twist right out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie!(Now imagine if Nicolas Cage was playing the villain in M. Night Shyamalan's rumored "Unbreakable" sequel... actually, on second thought, don't imagine that...I don't think the human brain can handle that much awesome!)While Larson's writing during the Holmes segments was undeniably gripping, I felt he went a little overboard with his speculative approach. He describes what was going through the victims' heads moments before Holmes murdered them, things Larson has no way of knowing were actually true. This did take me out of the book quite a few times, as when I'm reading nonfiction and the author keeps adding details that can't actually be confirmed, it make me begin to wonder how true this true crime novel really is!I did enjoy reading "Devil in the White City", although I would say it's more a book for history enthusiasts than true crime fans, as the 1893 World's Fair is clearly the novel's main event, while Dr. Holmes is more of a sideshow freak. Whether you're here for the Fair or the murder castle, Erik Larson's skills as a writer makes this an interesting read, as long as you don't mind getting some chocolate in your peanut butter speculative fiction in your true crime.(2-and-a-half-hours of fighting over chocolate in peanut butter... still a better movie than "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice"!)

  • Henry Avila
    2019-01-19 13:24

    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 that they are more than hog killers, with speeding trains and prosperous businessmen , this is a sophisticated town, particularly to arch rival New York . In a short while after winning the contest to hold this extravaganza, beating St. Louis, Washington and the big enemy New York City for the honor, from Congress, the next step , yes committees , Americans love them, they multiply like rabbits but get in the way of progress. At long last, emerging from countless delays, officially named the "World's Columbian Exposition", to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America, in 1492, but its six months run will start a year later in 1893. A leading Chicago architect Mr. Daniel Burnham and his partner John Root, are chosen for the enormous job to build it, but also residing in the overcrowded, fast growing, violent, dirty city, Dr. Herman Webster Mudgett , alias (one of many ) H.H.(Henry) Holmes, America's first well known serial killer. The two will never meet but their stories will make headlines around the globe. Mr. Burnham task seems impossible, made worse when his closest friend in business and in private life dies, John Root, the committees don't and can't make decisions, days pass still nothing is being accomplished, at last the authority is granted him to be the boss, Burnham, (" Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood") slowly things begin to appear, on a grand- scale, the white, ( all the same color) huge, electrified buildings soaring into the sky, the scary, new Ferris Wheel will take you there, if it is ever built, lagoons are made, islands formed , canals dug, the waters come from sparkling Lake Michigan, boats follow, the ugly, empty Jackson Park begins to fill, something special even at this early stage is felt...Dr.Holmes likes pretty, young women , just off farms and small towns, the feelings are mutual, he pays attention to their every word, looks into their eyes, touches them gently, the handsome, soft, well spoken con man, has plenty of charm, few are not enamored, wealthy too, owner of the strange, rather gloomy, with mysterious odors, the World's Fair Hotel, nicknamed "The Castle ", he keeps marrying the women, a real lady killer...but will murder men too. This nonfiction book is very entertaining, and always informative, you can imagine yourself back to the spectacular, enormously successful , thrilling, magical fair, the numerous attractions , in hundreds of buildings, from the very popular, exotic , belly dancers, to the unsuitable Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show , he made a fortune, just outside, the exposition grounds , they don't make this kind anymore..

  • Lobstergirl
    2019-01-18 18:53

    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 realize he's talking about the inventor of the Ferris Wheel. But only several chapters later - in the manner of Nancy Drew abruptly tumbling to the bottom of a dark well - he'll have the mystery man dramatically sign his name to a letter: George Washington Gale Ferris. George Washington Gale Ferris !!!!!!!! I did not see that coming.His narrative is peppered with the most insignificant, totally unrelated factoids, I suppose because they amused him and he couldn't stand the thought of leaving them out. He loves nothing more than to set a scene - so and so in a Pullman car or a fine dining club, this and that person on an ocean liner, attempting to send a cable to someone on the Titanic - merely in order to convey some piece of information totally unrelated to the wholly gratuitous scene. As to historical accuracy, doubtless there's a fair bit; he does have lots of end notes, and he consulted many historical sources. But he also embellishes novelistically in a way that no real historian would ever allow himself to do. It's shameful, and shameless. He asserts in the text that such and such happened, but if you check the endnotes, it didn't really happen - but it could have, he says. It was likely, he felt. After reading Isaac's Storm, which was also heavily embellished and the endnotes similarly acknowledging such, I don't trust anything this man writes. I wash my hands of him.

  • James
    2019-01-25 17:50

    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 thoroughly researched fact. The bookThe Great Columbian Exhibition of 1893 was Chicago's big chance to shake off its old image as a hog-slaughtering, dirty and dangerous town and to take its place as America's second city. Although the fair's theme gave a backward nod to the 400th anniversary of Columbus bumping into the Americas on his way to India, its vision was futuristic: for the first time, electric lighting, clean water, and planned green spaces could be experienced on a massive scale. Innovations - the Ferris Wheel, the hamburger, an elevated railway, Juicy Fruit gum, the zip fastener and shredded wheat among them - enhanced the feeling that the next century would belong to America. The buildings were monumental, the exhibits eclectic (one example: a map of the USA made entirely of pickles) and the visitors were awestruck. They called it the White City, from the colour of main buildings that were imposing by day, dazzling by night. Much of this was down to Daniel Burnham. His can-do reputation for building skyscrapers made him a natural choice as project manager. But we're frequently reminded that he had to push himself to the limit and step on quite few toes to ensure the Fair's success, a job made all the more difficult by economic recession, bickering architects, striking workers, pompous politicians and Chicago's notorious weather. As if all this weren't enough to occupy the reader, a parallel story takes us inside the grim world of H.H. Holmes. Capitalising on the advent of the Fair, Holmes built his own hotel to attract single young women who were streaming into the city from across America in search of work, independence and a new life in the big city. One such unfortunate believed she was on the threshold of marriage to this enchanting gentleman; in reality, she was destined for a gas chamber in the hotel basement. She was not to be the last to fall for his charms, but even in death there was no rest. Holmes literally picked over the bones of his victims, selling their remains to medical students eager to examine recently deceased corpses - no questions asked. At first, the benefit for Holmes was financial, but as time passed, the chase, the kill, the post mortem had become ends in themselves. A single-minded detective and a stroke of luck brought Holmes to justice, but even when he realised the game was up, he managed to keep his unsettling cool. My thoughts I had a strong feeling that I would take to this book, and from start to finish I was never disappointed. It fairly zings along, both stories proving absorbing, while casting out facts like frisbees. Although Burnham and Holmes are the book's dominant characters, there are walk-on parts for numerous figures who made their own mark on the White City. Buffalo Bill, Thomas Edison, and Scott Joplin are among the famous names, and the description of George Ferris's efforts to debut his eponymous wheel is a story in itself. But the lesser-known characters are also worthy of note. I pitied poor Frederick Olmsted's attempts to landscape the exhibition in the midst of an enormous, muddy construction site and a fit of depression. But I can see how ahead of his time he really was, insisting on natural greenery instead of a regimented collection of flower beds. Then there was Patrick Prendergast, whose descent into madness was to have a shocking impact on the Fair's final days; it's here that Larson's descriptive powers really come into their own. As for the serial killer, the author doesn't dwell on the sensationalist aspects of his more grisly activities, but what he leaves to the imagination is far more powerful. Extracts from letters written by a child kidnapped by Holmes are among the most upsetting words I've ever read - a reminder that the worst of human nature may not only be found in our own times. But my lasting impression from this book is one of optimism, of Burnham straining every nerve and sinew to achieve the impossible, and the ordinary folk of Chicago bursting with pride at what had been achieved. The U.S. edition of the book has the subtitle "the fair that changed America" - and that's certainly true, right down to the Pledge of Allegiance which can trace its origins to the exhibition's opening day. Beyond that, the Chicago Fair of 1893 not only showed America how it could be, but how it would be - better living and working conditions, convenience foods, domestic appliances, gadgets and more time for fun. In short, it heralded the prospect of a decent day's pay for a full day's work, a clean, safe environment, and of course the God-given right to eat shredded wheat. Who would like this book? I enjoyed it because of an interest in cities and architecture. But it would equally appeal to readers who are into engineering, politics, social history,horticulture, true crimes: does that leave anyone out?

  • Jonathan Ashleigh
    2019-02-08 15:29

    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 where Pabst won their blue ribbon and follows with, “A young man by the name of George Farris went to that same fair in Chicago, 1893 — and he built himself a wheel.”The best story and the reason why I wanted more was the story of Holmes, who murdered dozens while becoming America’s first serial killer. I didn’t really care for the ten plus pages describing where the fair would go and then what park in said city it would be in. Some of these details were distracting and took too long. As the reader, I just wanted to get to the gruesome parts. People like to say that non-fiction, “reads like fiction,” when they think it is good but that doesn’t make much sense to me. Books without dialogue generally feel to me like Wikipedia, and they're good when I am able to stay interested.

  • Carol
    2019-01-23 16:44

    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 diseases, grotesque environmental conditions and bank failures was certainly enlightening, but most intriguing for me was erection of the monstrous "Ferris" Wheel with enclosed glassed-in seats. (googled some amazing photos)And this dude Dr. HHH.....Picture a young, handsome prosperous man with mesmerizing big blue eyes who is in fact an evil psychopath, sniveling cheat and conniving polygamist. This devil incarnate killed on a whim and caused turmoil in so many families with his slithering knack of preying on the weak and vulnerable; and while I wasn't too surprised at the naivety of the young women, the men falling for his sleazy schemes really shocked me.This work of non-fiction is jam-packed with interesting facts, faces and descriptive details that are too numerous to even begin to mention here, but now, whenever I see Cracker Jack, I'll sure remember where it originated.

  • Dem
    2019-02-06 15:49

    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 AmericaThe 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 charming doctor was luring victims to their deaths and becoming America's first Serial Killer. This is the incredible true account of two very different men and the different paths their lives would lead them.This is my second Book by Eric Larson having read and loved Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania previously I was looking forward to another book by this author. His books are extremely well researched and very detailed and he leaves no stone unturned when telling a story.I loved learning about the Fair and the magnificent buildings, The World's first Ferris Wheel, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, electric boats, all the different elements that went into planning and organising such an amazing event. I loved how this book crossed over with numerous other books I had read about this time, (especially the quote from the notorious Chicago May who was born in Ireland only a few miles from my home and ended up becoming one of Chicago's most notorious Crooks of that time) I enjoyed the descriptions of families travelling long distances to the fair from small farms and towns and their amazement at witnessing these spectacular attractions and miracle of electricity for the first time. Eric Larson's descriptions are vivid and captivating and you actually imagine you are there at the centre of the city's excitement. Of course then you are brought back to reality with the murder and mayhem created by H.H Holmes and wonder how a man like this could have murdered so many innocent people and nobody noticed or suspected him.A word of warningThe Devil is in the detail and Eric Larson book's are high on detail and facts which I loved but some may find a tad tedious as the story does drag slightly in places but the historical information and descriptions are excellent and I loved every minute spent with this book.I listened to this one on audio and the narration was excellent.

  • Victoria Schwab
    2019-01-27 13:40

    Utterly compelling.

  • Kristy
    2019-02-15 20:37

    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 wondering exactly where. And Mudgett... I wonder where all of his buildings were... it sends chills up my spine just to think about it. I wonder if anyone has put together a tourist's map based on this book? O.K., beyond my personal reasons for being fascinated, the writing is excellent, and really well documented. And the charming thing is that he documented everything in the back of the book in a really simple way, so if you were so inclined you would not have to be a big fancy scholar to follow his paper trail and see all of this stuff for yourself. Power to the people!And the writing style is accessible and the voice is also very appropriate... he kind of veers between eulogist and undertaker. And the few times that he takes liberties and describes things that no one could ever really possibly have documented, he does so in a way that is careful and responsible. And I think for him not to have taken the liberties would have been a mistake... I think everyone who read the book would have thought there was something missing. And what's ultimately really rewarding about this book is that the author outlines all the ways in which the influences of Fair of 1893 reverberated in American culture (and the world) for years afterward. Our aesthetic sensibility as a nation was permanently changed. And our technological sensibility. And to think that all of this was planned so fast, it was like a supernova in the middle of this underdeveloped backwater (oh, I said it. I live here now, and sometimes I still think of Chicago that way.). And that with all that progress comes this darkness, too, there's this underside to everything. And with that lovely thought, I'm going to try and find the Wooded Island. Ciao!

  • Jason Koivu
    2019-01-16 14:53

    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 often contentious development and creation of one of the most ambitious World's Fairs ever.The book is short. There isn't a wealth of information to relate, but Larson squeezes what he can out of it and in an admirable fashion, artfully revealing details and teasing out the tension. Not long after reading this, I went to Chicago for my first ever visit and a naive part of me hoped to find the World's Fair exhibits still up and running. A hundred years and more after the event, Chicago has moved on, but the fair grounds are still used for peculiar exhibitions and one of the original buildings is still in use as a museum, so it's possible to visit the site and daydream yourself back into the glorious wonderment, not to mention the horror, if you wish.

  • Mizuki
    2019-02-05 16:30

    “I was born with the devil in me,' [Holmes] wrote. 'I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.” Damn, it is exactly my type of thing! *jumps to read*Note: Buddy-read with DayDreamer .When you open this book, please be ready for the unimaginable from both the good and the evil! Be prepared to be seduced by the magic and wonders of the glorious White City *and* the twisted, gruesome but intriguing Murder Castle!Let's just THINK BIG! If you wanted to kill lot of people for your own pleasure and you also want to make a profit out of your activities, then why not build an entire building for the sole purpose of...murdering people just for the hell of it!? *evil grins*Documentary for H. H. Holmes: Slaughtered At The Murder Hotel Castle Explained: and there seems to be a movie adaptation with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in it! Isn't it wonderful?More to come.Chinese review (short):這本書真的很好看哦,內容一方面是講述一個連環殺手在1891年左右時, 自己充當建築師建造了史上首座以大量殺人及謀財害命為主要用途的惡夢之屋。 而另一邊廂,芝加哥以至全美國有頭有面的建築師們也在如火如荼地興建有如夢想宮殿, 一心要和巴黎鐵塔比美的萬國博覽館建築群。以上乃真人真事, 既獵奇又令人意想不到。

  • Jaidee
    2019-01-25 20:27

    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 design and development of the architecture of the fair overshadowed the story of the doctor who was at times presented as an after-thought.To Mr. Larson's credit he took a wealth of information and presented it in an easily understandable style that read like a very long and pretty good Vanity Fair article. I, however, as a reader was not wholly satisfied and the two stories were not treated equally and sometimes the connections seemed rather loose and haphazard.All in all, though, I enjoyed this book and will read further books by Mr. Larson.

  • Carol
    2019-01-25 20:31

    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
    2019-01-25 15:35

    The White City is the Chicago Columbia Exposition, a world fair in which all the buildings were painted white; the time the late 1800s during the fair; the Devil is a serial killer. Yet this is a non-fiction book. Larson has written a very informative as well as entertaining story. The Columbian Exposition was a very big deal. Chicago had vied for the honor of presenting a world’s fair, and when they were selected the energy of the famed slaughterhouse city was put to the wheel. There are many personalities involved, not least Daniel Burnham, one of the top architects of his day and the coordinator of the entire project design. He brought in Frederick Law Olmstead and many other top architects. Chicago was determined to outdo the French, whose world fair in Paris had been a triumph, introducing, among other things, the Eiffel Tower, and mass use of alternating current. Larson describes the conflicting and outlandish personalities of the time, and makes us marvel that the thing ever actually got done. The Chicago Exposition introduced some significant items of its own, not least of which was a very progressive notion of city planning, for the enterprise required attention to a multitude of facets simultaneously in order to come to fruition. One of the structures built was then the largest building in the world. The fair introduced Mister Ferris’ first working wheel. The Disney family attended and the fair may have inspired Walt to a development of his own. Buffalo Bill made millions with his entertainment just outside the fair gates (The fair had not allowed him to be a part of the show inside). Weather was a formidable opponent to the construction, as was the state of the economy, namely plummeting. Counterbalancing the travails and triumphs of creating the fair, the Devil of the title was a young man named Holmes (no, not Sherlock). He had a very winning way with people, particularly creditors and attractive young women. He had some flaws however. Among them was a complete inability to empathize with anyone. He was an extreme example of what we refer to today as a psychopath. He set up shop in Chicago about that time, acquired some property and constructed on it a building of his own design. It was called The Castle, and one might be forgiven for imagining it with lightning bolts blasting stormy skies. For it was here that he murdered untold numbers of people, women, men, children. He designed the building to incorporate a space in which he could trap and gas people. He also allowed for his need to incinerate the bodies without releasing much aroma. His charm kept the suspicious at bay. Eventually, of course, he was found out and brought to justice, but not until he had slain somewhere between 50 and 200 people. Larson peppers the book with dozens of satisfying factoids, about the people he is describing and about the times. It was, despite some of the darker subject matter, a very engaging, informative, and yes, fun read.

  • Bradley
    2019-02-15 16:49

    For anyone who might question why I might give this a four-star rating rather than the six-star rating that its research deserves, it's because it's mostly a ton of facts, interesting or otherwise, and not quite the kind of coherent narrative a person might expect as a regular novel.That being said, it's really a fun and easy read that explores so much of what made the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 a real eye opener and imagination-sparker for pretty much all of America.As a side-note, or perhaps a parallel-note, it focuses rather heavily on H. H. Holmes, serial murderer extreme who was the American equivalent of Jack the Ripper and contemporary of the same.We have two sides of the extreme going on here. Love and ambition and art and beauty running through the muck of the extremely dirty and bloated Chicago of the day, focusing on the nasty murderer for the shock value and the dark side of the mirror. I can't complain. It's both full of facts and a truly faithful description of the times, the players that made the Fair fantastic, as well as the failings, the madness, and the horror of its underside.Awe and Horror, folks.It's the same coin with two sides.For that and the fact that this novel is overflowing with awesome history, I loved it. What is fiction is relatively minor compared to the fact that it's mostly real history! And frankly, I was kinda amazed at how many cool bits I did learn!Spectacle and Terror, folks! :) Gotta love it.

  • Glenn Sumi
    2019-01-27 20:23

    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, the fair’s chief architect who went on to design NYC’s Flatiron building, and Dr. H.H. Holmes, a handsome pharmacist/entrepreneur who lured impressionable young women (newly arrived for the fair and often on their own for the first time in their lives) to their grisly ends.At first Holmes’s serial killer narrative is more gripping than Burnham’s bureaucratic and administrative woes; the details are just too macabre. He built a place near the fair called The World’s Fair Hotel that had a unique design: it included a heavily sealed-off, soundproof room that could be piped with gas; another room where he could perform "surgeries"; and a huge oven where he could incinerate bodies. Always on the lookout for more cash (Larson details the man’s many swindles), he figured out a way to sell his victims’ skeletons to a nearby teaching facility. Gruesome.But as I read on, I got caught up in the sturm und drang around the fair. Despite knowing in advance that the event happened, there's lots of suspense. Would sickly landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, best known for designing Central Park, be well enough to finish his designs and see his vision realized? Could some engineer come up with an idea that would top Paris’s Eiffel Tower? (Some of the proposals to this last question are truly hilarious, including a tower so tall it included chutes for people to ride back to New York.)Larson, a former staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, has done impressive amounts of research. His “Notes and Sources” chapter is fascinating, especially when he explains how he pieced together scenes that no one witnessed. At times the detail is almost too much, as in the three complete dinner menus for fancy galas before and during the fair.The Holmes narrative is structured like a thriller. With each “Oh no he didn’t!” revelation, you keep wondering: “Will he be caught? Surely this can’t go on!” Larson doesn’t disappoint in telling his story, which even includes a period of time – very important in gathering evidence, as it turns out – that Holmes spent in my home town of Toronto! There are also many anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book involving famous people (Buffalo Bill Cody, Nikola Tesla, Annie Oakley, Theodore Dreiser) and products (Shredded Wheat, Aunt Jemima, Juicy Fruit, Pabst’s Blue Ribbon). Did you know the term “Windy City” has nothing to do with Chicago’s weather?At times the narrative is a little choppy, since Larson switches between Burnham and Holmes's tales. He also interweaves a less gripping story about a man named Patrick Prendergast, which unspools like a B or C plot until its conclusion.Speaking of plots, an inevitable film is in the works, starring Leonardo Di Caprio as Holmes. He’ll be great. But I’m glad I didn’t have his image in mind as I was reading the book. (A chilling archival picture of Holmes is included. On that subject, a few more photographs of other people and places would have been helpful.)I suggest reading it before more casting is announced. Better to let Larson’s story play out in your imagination before you see it reduced forever on the silver screen.

  • Mike
    2019-01-16 17:45

    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 the innocence and gullibility of women and men of the age.“The White City” is the name given to the fairgrounds, a direct contrast to the Black City as Chicago was known in part, a rough town with an inferiority complex. Having just overtaken Philly as the second largest city in the US, Chicago wants and gets the right to host the Expo. The story of how this fair came to be successful could have been the entire story and a great one. What amazed me the most was how large these people dreamed and then made it happen. They fought through bad weather, bureaucracy, and politics to build an Expo that had to outdo the 1889 Paris Expo, which had featured the Eiffel Tower, a true masterpiece. I won’t spoil it and tell you what the Chicago group did but they did “out-Eiffel” the Parisians in the end. I’m positive you will be amazed at the nexus of so many people you will be familiar with. Connections abound but here are a few of the characters: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Edison, Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, Teddy Roosevelt, competition to light the fair by Westinghouse (AC) or General Electric (DC), Clarence Darrow, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Tesla, Cracker Jack, Shredded Wheat, kinetoscopes, and so much more. The sheer audacity of this event is breathtaking, these are the people who built America.The serial killer, H. H. Holmes, is the embodiment of evil, a Ted Bundy canvassing the hinterlands for naïve girls to bring to Chicago for his “use”. Larsen weaves a compelling and tense story of how this man created an environment where he could carry out his evil deeds and yet was never suspected until many had died at his hands. The 1893 Expo provided even more victims for his pursuit. Holmes operated with impunity as no one could imagine anything untoward had been done when various women “just left”. The death penalty exists for people like this guy, no other way to deal with him. It was a well-written counterpoint to the main story of the fair.Oh, the “hometown” story that clinched the 5 Star rating? Turns out my hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin was to provide fresh, clean drinking water to the Chicago fairgrounds from our famous springs. I knew about the springs but not about the effort to pipe that water 100 miles to the south. Learn something new every day.

  • Maxwell
    2019-01-30 15:26

    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. If you don't find the politics behind and construction of the fair to be interesting, then you won't like virtually half of this book. But the historical aspects as well as the drama and intrigue behind the fair's regulations, development and questionable success was really fascinating. Plus there are so, so many things that we have today--inventions, historical figures, songs and other works of art--that came to fame from this fair. It's so interesting. And I almost felt the fair had more life, had been more fleshed out by the author, than the chapters revolving around Holmes' methods and murders. It's historical non-fiction/true crime at its best. And I will definitely be checking out more books by this author. 5/5 stars.

  • Elyse
    2019-02-14 15:24

    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!!!!

  • Jude
    2019-01-24 16:26

    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 hooked. This book is a triumph because Erik Larson researched the hell out of this topic. I know from my daily experience: if you dig hard enough, interesting facts have a way of presenting themselves. It's a joy to witness someone transform the mundane into the engaging. Larson does this. He pings us back and forth between two men of great ambition - Burnham and Holmes - before, during and after the time of their greatest triumphs. Burnham is the architect of the World's Fair (or World's Columbian Exposition), which has invaded Chicago at the end of the 19th century. Holmes is a con artist with an insatiable thirst to lure innocent young ladies into his den of horrors. He is America's Jack the Ripper without the headlines.Like many, I was most intrigued by the Holmes chapters. I often found I was "treating" myself by reading the Holmes chapters; the Burnham chapters were a means to that end. A funny thing happened about halfway through, however. I couldn't get enough of the fair; it's descriptions, the maddening timetables, the enormous pressures to "out Eiffel Eiffel" and prove Chicago worthy of what New York coveted.This is a book for everyone that loves to read. It's for academics - although they may find fault with some of Larson's hypotheses; for serious readers, and for not so serious readers. Don't take my word for it. Take mine and everybody else's.

  • Maureen
    2019-01-26 15:48

    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 became tiresome for me, quickly.Beyond this style irritation, I was disappointed, in Larson's failure to ever unite the two main threads: those of the World's Fair (mostly its chief architect, Daniel Burnham) and "America's first serial killer," H.H. Holmes, who murdered dozens during the same period. They are each interesting, but aside from not seeing concrete ties between the stories, the reader is unsure of why Larson would pick these specific lives to parallel. Why not a madam operating in Chicago at the time? Why not a Zulu warrior brought to America as an exhibition piece? Etc.Regardless of why Larson chose the World's Fair and H.H. Holmes as threads for his narrative, through them, readers can learn a great deal about this period in American history.

  • Richard
    2019-01-18 20:25

    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 architectural innovation. And since architects invariably deal with wealth, all the contradictions and surprises of the Gilded Age are brought to the fore.And perhaps the devil half contained enough meat to reach the topmost tier of true-crime nonfiction, just under Capote's unsurpassable In Cold Blood. The social changes seen by the poor — the gilded age's dark lining, as it were — were just as riveting as the boardroom side of the story.That young women were responding to somewhat loosening social roles is critical to the devil side of the story, but what is driving this is elided. That Chicago's police force is inadequate to the task of even noticing that startling numbers of people are simply going missing — why? We come to understand that it wasn't simple incompetence, but yet another manifestation with how the world was changing. Geyer, the investigator who brought down the devil, deserved much more attention as an amalgam of the fictional Sherlock Holmes and a harbinger of how the FBI would someday work. Larson could have even tossed in a little twist to tied this into the current CSI-inspired fascination with forensics.By twining these two stories together, the author lost much and gained little. For example, since this wasn't strictly a true-crime story, he couldn't trace developments in crime detection forward over the decades; and because it wasn't strictly an architects' story, he couldn't follow up on his teasers regarding how the World's Fair changed American's conceptions of urban space.Even combined, this book needed a much heavier dose of sociology: yes, both stories with societal change, and both take place in Chicago — but what does this mean? Why at this time, and at this place?The Devil in the White City is a worthwhile book, but not nearly as interesting as the material warrants. 

  • Celeste
    2019-01-20 19:43

    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 to tears. Or to slumber. Either way, I had to muscle my way through it.Half of this book was the tale of America’s first serial killer, which I thought would be fascinating. But Holmes was no Jack the Ripper and, while interesting, wasn’t as compelling to read about as more brutal, hands-on killers. I know that sounds incredibly morbid, but it’s true. He was a fascinating fellow, but a bland killer. The building of the World’s Fair held in Chicago would have been much more palatable (for me) if it had been shortened to merely the highlights. Burnham was a self-made man who secured his future through that Fair, but he and his compatriots were not captivating enough to demand half of a four-hundred page book, in my opinion. I got incredibly bogged down in the details of the architecture, though the Fair sounded absolutely breathtaking. At the risk of sounding childish, I wish there had been more photographic representation of the Fair and less mind-numbing description.There were two parts of this book that I really enjoyed, the first being learning about various inventions unveiled at the fair. I was aware of Cracker Jacks and the Ferris Wheel being unveiled at the Fair. But who knew that zippers and Wrigley’s gum and Aunt Jemima’s Ready-Made Pancake mix all got their start at the world’s largest gathering up to that point in history? And bless whoever invented the automatic dishwasher, which was also unveiled at the Fair. I don’t know about you, but that’s an invention that I’m incredibly thankful for. I also really enjoyed learning about Detective Geyer, the Pinkerton man who finally brought Holmes to justice. Geyer’s dedication to finding the missing Pitezel children, Howard, Nellie, and Alice, led to the uncovering of Holmes’ other dark deeds. The majority of Americans followed the case religiously, and Geyer became America’s Sherlock Holmes. I love anything Sherlock related, so that make my little nerd heart happy.Did I enjoy this book? Bottom-line: no. It was interesting on an intellectual level. I learned a lot. It gave me fodder for future lulls in conversation. But it wasn’t entertaining, and I read to be entertained. I’m an escapist, after all. Larson should be applauded for his hard work, but his book read like a dissertation to me. Most non-fiction does. And I can never seem to make myself enjoy reading anything factual. Now, if something is based on reality, I can get behind that. On occasion, anyway. But unless there’s magic and swords and a plethora of events that could never actually happen, I just don’t have much interest. That’s not to say that I don’t like truth in my fiction. In my opinion, the best fiction proclaims some truth that often gets lost in the shuffle of real life. Give me dragons with morality. Give me fairytales that jump of the page and whisper veracity in my ear. Give me fantasy that proclaims something. It moves me more than nonfiction any day.

  • Amanda
    2019-01-25 16:36

    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 building of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the simultaneous planning and building of a serial killer's lair. Larson uses the convergence of these two storylines to juxtapose man's capacity for the divine against an equal capacity for evil. Two men become the embodiment of this dichotomy: Daniel Burnham, chief architect of the Exposition, who brought the dream of the "White City" to life, and H. H. Holmes, the psychopath who used the bustle of the World's Fair to lure victims to his real-life house of horrors. This intention seems to be summed up in a quote from the physician John L. Capen, who, reflecting upon Holmes's appearance, says of his eyes, "They are blue. Great murderers, like great men in other walks of activity, have blue eyes." Attention is drawn time and again to the startling blue eyes of both Burnham and Holmes, illustrating that each man would become "great" in his way.However, Larson thankfully doesn't browbeat his reader with lengthy explorations of the nature of good and evil. Instead, he presents the extraordinary lives of each man during that fateful time and allows the reader to draw these comparisons. As the White City is built, America is presented with the dream of what it could be. A civilized country could emerge from the twilight of the frontier and our pioneer spirit could live on in a future where men like Tesla, Edison, and Ferris looked toward building the impossible. Despite the hopes and possibilities represented by the Columbian Exposition, there is also an undercurrent of darkness in the form of union strikes, economic collapses, and cities large enough to swallow ambitious men and women whole without leaving a trace--cities that serve as the perfect hunting grounds for a man like Holmes. These are compelling stories and, yet, they never quite came to life for me. Larson's research is obvious, but the pacing of the story is often slowed down by dry passages--especially those detailing the power struggles that occur during the planning of the Exposition. Larson is at his best while writing about Chicago itself, capturing the sights, smells, and sounds of a bustling and ambitious city eager to prove its worth as a cultural mecca to its more sophisticated counterpart, New York City. He's also adept at bringing historical characters to life (I particularly enjoyed it when Susan B. Anthony and Buffalo Bill cross paths). All in all, this is a worthwhile, if not riveting, read.Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder

  • Amy Sturgis
    2019-02-07 14:40

    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 quite a lot. I was captivated. I was also horribly annoyed. Constantly.Erik Larson's writing style is maddening. He presents several parallel stories that on their own are absorbing and compelling, but he constantly interrupts these narratives with either 1) ridiculous flights of fiction (the body language of a given individual, or his/her thoughts at a given moment - things Larson could not possibly know even with the most diligent of research) or 2) outrageous purple prose (oh, the overwrought metaphors, and oh, his eyes had never been so blue) to heap melodrama on top of drama. Larson is his own worst enemy. He desperately needed an editor to tell him when to stop. Imagine watching a serious and challenging documentary that at random times is interrupted and derailed by the most cheap, inauthentic, and shamefully hammy "dramatic reenactments" possible. That's what it felt like reading this book. Rating The Devil in the White City is difficult for me, because I'm quite glad I read it (even when I wanted to throw it across the room, which was frequently), and I'd like to read more rigorous and serious works on the subjects to which it introduced me. I'm not wholly convinced of the solidity of Larson's research - just his passing couple of paragraphs on Jack the Ripper contained at least one glaring factual error, and slips such as confusing Chicago's Magnificent Mile with the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles appeared throughout - but I am convinced that these stories of creation and destruction, genius and madness are compelling complements and foils to one another, and it makes good sense to see them in opposition and relation to each other. I'm glad I experienced this book. And I'm very glad that experience is over.