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

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

Book rating: 05 Paperback Vintage Books

By (author) Erik Larson

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  • Publisher: Vintage Books
  • Format: Paperback | 464 pages
  • Dimensions: 135mm x 208mm x 30mm | 318g
  • Publication date: 2 October 2004
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0375725601
  • ISBN 13: 9780375725609
  • Edition statement: Reprint
  • Illustrations note: 1 MAP; 7 HALFTONES
  • Sales rank: 6,310

Product description

Erik Larson--author of #1 bestseller IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS--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.

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Author information

Erik Larson, author of the international bestseller Isaac's Storm, has written for "Harper's," "The New Yorker," " The Atlantic Monthly," and "Time," where he is a contributing writer. He is a former staff writer for "The Wall Street Journal." He lives in Seattle with his wife, three daughters, and assorted pets, including a golden retriever named Molly.

Customer reviews

By TeensReadToo 28 Sep 2010 5

In 1893, Chicago was gearing up for its shining moment on the international stage. The city had been selected to host the World's Fair, beating out New York and a number of other American contenders. A prominent local architect, Daniel Burnham, had taken the reins to organize and construct the massive project. He assembled a dream team of architects, landscapers, engineers, and other professionals to help pull the fair together. Certainly Chicago could outdo the Paris Fair, which had been a worldwide success years earlier.

Unfortunately for Burnham and his team, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Due to a lack of organization and bickering among the committees responsible for the fair, construction began far later than it should have. Partially completed buildings blew over and burned down. Union workers threatened strikes. One sideshow act showed up a year early, while another (which was believed to be made up of cannibals) killed the man sent to retrieve them and never showed up at all. And there was a monster on the loose. A man who used the chaos of Chicago at this time in history to conceal the murders of dozens of people - many of them young, single women. A man who constructed a building with stolen money, then used the building as a slaughterhouse to lure, kill, and dispose of his victims.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is a terrific book. It is nonfiction, but it reads like a novel. The real-life details of this story seem almost too bizarre to be true, yet this is one example of the old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction." The author, Erik Larson, even includes a lengthy section at the back where he documents his facts and explains his suppositions.

The book's chapters alternate between the World's Fair and the exploits of serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes. I found myself enjoying both stories, as they ran parallel throughout the book. The Herculean task of putting together the fair in record time was fascinating, and the sociopathic actions of Dr. Holmes were chilling. It made for a brilliant contrast - just when the frustrations of the Fair seemed overwhelming, the book switched to Dr. Holmes as he lured yet another young woman into his web. And just when Dr. Holmes' evil seemed too much to bear, the chapter would end and the reader would be back at the World's Fair dealing with political back stabbing, instead of Holmes' more literal variety.

I rarely read nonfiction, but this book came highly recommended to me, so I gave it a try. I'm so glad I did, too. It offers a wonderful historical perspective on Chicago and the world near the close of the 19th century. For a Chicago-area native like me, its frequent mentions of famous local names, like Burnham and Adler and Marshall Field, that still grace street signs and the sides of buildings, were an added treat. Just a brief word of warning, though: it does contain some of the dreaded "adult themes." Some of Dr. Holmes' crimes are described - although not too graphically - and they might be upsetting for "younger or more sensitive" readers.

I strongly recommend THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY to anyone who enjoys an engrossing, well-written story, whether they normally read fiction or nonfiction. In particular, if readers have a book report in school, this book should be considered. It makes history come alive.

Review quote

" Engrossing . . . exceedingly well documented . . . utterly fascinating." -- "Chicago Tribune "" A dynamic, enveloping book. . . . Relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramtic effect of a novel. . . . It doesn't hurt that this truth is stranger than fiction." " --The New York Times "" So good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already." -- "Esquire "" Another successful exploration of American history. . . . Larson skillfully balances the grisly details with the far-reaching implications of the World's Fair." -- "USA Today "" As absorbing a piece of popular history as one will ever hope to find." -- "San Francisco Chronicle "" Paints a dazzling picture of the Gilded Age and prefigure the American century to come." -- "Entertainment Weekly "" A wonderfully unexpected book. . . Larson is a historian . . . with a novelist's soul." -- "Chicago Sun-Times "

Flap copy

Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larson's spellbinding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men--the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; 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.