The Devil in the White City

By Erik Larson,

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

Book description

The Chicago World Fair was the greatest fair in American history. This is the story of the men and women whose lives it irrevocably changed and of two men in particular- an architect and a serial killer. The architect is Daniel Burnham, a man of great integrity and depth. It…

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Why read it?

13 authors picked The Devil in the White City as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Larson takes us through two storylines. The first was of the 1893 World's Fair, explaining the politics, planning, personalities, and dynamics that made it so. The second story that parallels happened only blocks away is the story of one of the most notorious serial murderers, H.H. Holmes. This book teaches us about the time's atmosphere, mores, and norms. The wonder of the new technological era increased immigration and a mixture of all types of people in this new city. On the one hand, inspired things occurred, and concurrently, some of the most disturbing planning for homicides could only have happened…

The Devil in the White City tells the terrifying story of the cold-blooded serial killer, H. H. Holmes. His killing spree peaked during the World’s Columbian Exposition (The Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893 when dozens, if not hundreds, of missing fairgoers, met their end in Holmes’s “Murder Castle.” By telling the parallel story of the fair’s development and operation, Erik Larson paints a vivid picture of time and place, setting the stage for Holmes’s murderous career. The optimism and achievement of America’s gilded age, embodied by the Exposition, compared with the ruthless efficiency of H. H. Holmes, provides a narrative…

From Robert's list on murder in America’s Gilded Age.

The Devil in the White City transported me back in time, to the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago. I love the way the author wove together the history of the exposition and the story of a serial killer who got away with murder, just miles away from the lavish world’s fair. Erik Larson is a skillful storyteller and the juxtaposition of art, history, and horror made this book hard to put down.   

Historical fiction is a genre that I often turn to when searching for the next book to read. Eric Larson brings us a masterful story about an obsessive architect and a brilliantly deceptive serial killer during America's highly creative yet oft-times frightening pre-20th Century society—with the Chicago World's Fair as the main focus. I found myself lost in Larson’s literary time machine of the incredible chaos from that period of Chicago’s history. You’ll read about many famous names and their inventions, which is an added bonus.

I was once again transported back in time to a factual crime drama that…

From Keith's list on the sleuth will set you free.

This is frankly, one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, intertwining the true story of a fiendish serial killer with that of the creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where the killer operated. Erik Larson is a master at weaving historical details into page-turning narratives and I consciously studied his technique when it came to writing my own book. You might not think you’ll care that much about the Chicago World’s Fair but trust me, you’ll need a break from the other chapters about the monstrous H.H.Holmes and his crimes. Leave a light on when you read this…

When I was a kid, I loved history but hated history books. My favorite way to learn about the past was to read well-written historical novels. That was before Erik Larson landed on the literary scene. His books are as compelling as fiction, but they are entirely true. In The Devil in the White City, Larson tells the rollicking, tumultuous, and sordid story of the Chicago World Fair in 1893 through the eyes of the architects and savants whose genius brought the fair to life in the face of impossible odds and through the eyes of the Jekyll-and-Hyde businessman-cum-serial…

Larson’s sweeping portrait of the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, is a hypnotic blend of true crime and cultural history. Lurking just outside the alabaster sheen of the White City, the fairground built to celebrate America at the end of the nineteenth century as the nation looked forward to dominating the twentieth, were the death chambers of Dr. H. H. Holmes, a Hannibal Lecter-like sadist whom Larson calls “the prototype of the urban serial killer.” As the body count accumulates, Larson makes time for hundreds of unforgettable vignettes—like how a construction worker named Elias Disney would regale…

From Thomas' list on must-read true crime.

The Devil in the White City is the riveting story of a serial murderer whose actions connect directly to American values on display at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This exceptionally well-written book came to me in about 2005 when my father placed into my hands. I could not put it down and it facilitated my imaginings about how I might explain a single and long-ago act of violence from the perspective of the broader, painful history that is also the story of America. That Larson’s story of serial murder takes place in the same era as did the…

The 1893 World’s Fair. A serial killer. Wonderous and magical inventions. And every crazy word of it is true! (One example: No one thought the enormous and strange contraption known as the “Ferris Wheel” would withstand its first turn—no one but the inventor’s supportive wife, that is. Margaret Ferris insisted on being the first to take a ride!) Erik Larson does a brilliant job of combining historical facts with the sights, sounds, and (ugh) smells of nineteenth-century Chicago. 

Any book by Larson would be a fit for this list, but I’ll stick with the one that brought me to the ball in the first place. When I first read Devil in the White City, I was blown away by how Larson is capable of taking an absolute mountain of dry research and shaping it into a page-turner that reads like the best fictive thriller. Larson so deftly recreates the past, you’ll begin to feel like you’re experiencing the sights and sounds of turn-of-the-century Chicago all around you. Even if only a fraction of the literary lessons rub…

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