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?

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

Erik Larson lays out Chicago’s efforts to remake its seedy, 1880s image with a World’s Fair cast in all white. Sadly, a serial killer lurked. 

Devil in the White City kept me engaged by conjuring up that feeling of dread you have when you know something monumental is about to be undone. The scene-setting put me smack in the middle of the Fair preparation as organizers toil against pressing deadlines. So many young women coming to help launch the spectacle. I could feel my heartbeat quicken as the dueling storyline introduces yet another of Herman Mudgett’s 27 victims. 

Best yet…

The contrasts in this historical non-fiction book, starting with the title, is why this book makes my list.

It takes you back to another time in America and intersects the worlds of inspiring world fairs, an expanding industrial city (Chicago), and innovative architecture. Larson also intersects two other worlds: the good and bad of humanity and he does this through the stories of America’s best-known architect at the time Daniel Burnham and the nation’s first known serial killer, H.H. Holmes who uses Burnham’s World Fair as his hunting ground. Whoa!!!

You’ll put this book down with some epiphanies and affirmations…

I’ve read this book twice and listened to it on audiobook twice, and it never loses its appeal. Erik Larson's nonfiction books are so suspenseful that they seem like fiction, and The Devil in the White City is one of his best.

Larson is an expert researcher who finds one-off details that he sprinkles through his books to delight readers. This story of serial killer H.H. Holmes and the Chicago World's Fair twists and turns like a corkscrew. While visionaries and businessmen were building a gleaming White City to attract tourists to Chicago, cunning H.H. Holmes was building a booby-trapped…

Another nonfiction book and the only one on my list not set in England, Devil in the White City takes readers to Gilded Age Chicago and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. 

Great storytelling and incredible research introduce readers to the gleaming white exposition city and its ultimate juxtaposition, the World’s Fair Hotel just west of the fairgrounds. The hotel was built by Henry H. Holmes, a young and handsome doctor, who was also a sadistic killer. 

Holmes lured women to the hotel, a place complete with a dissection table, a gas chamber, and a crematorium. The horrors of the…

From Anastasia's list on dark and stormy Victorian vibes.

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…

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