The White City (as it became known) was a magical creation constructed upon Chicago's swampy Jackson Park by Daniel H. Burnham, the famed architect who coordinated the talents of Frederick Olmsted, Louis Sullivan, and others to build it. Dr. Henry H. Holmes combined the fair's appeal with his own fatal charms to lure scores of women to their deaths. Whereas the fair marked the birth of a new epoch in American history, Holmes marked the emergence of a new American archetype, the serial killer, who thrived on the very forces then transforming the country.
In deft prose, Larson conveys Burnham's herculean challenge to build the White City in less than 18 months. At the same time, he describes how, in a malign parody of the achievements of the fair's builders, Holmes built his own World's Fair Hotel - a torture palace complete with a gas chamber and crematorium. Throughout the book, tension mounts on two fronts: Will Burnham complete the White City before the millions of visitors arrive at its gates? Will anyone stop Holmes as he ensnares his victims?
© 2003 Erik Larson; (P) 2003 Books on Tape, Inc.
"A hugely engrossing chronicle of events public and private." (Chicago Tribune)
"Vivid history of the glittering Chicago World's Fair and its dark side." (New York Magazine)
"Both intimate and engrossing, Larson's elegant historical account unfolds with the painstaking calm of a Holmes murder."(Library Journal)
I enjoyed this listen so much I lost sleep to continue listening. Scott Brick is my favorite narrator and he doesn't disappoint here. Set in Chicago in the late 1800's the book tells two stories. The fascinating story of Chicago's rush to build the White City and hold the World Fair of 1893 (celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America and visited by everyone who was anyone); as well as the murderous actions of Herman Mudgett (a.k.a. HH Holmes) a well respected doctor who preyed on young trusting women, and anyone else who got in his way.
The author writes in such a way that you can truly imagine the excitement and boom happening in that place and time. Other added details such as the detectives' intense search for evidence, appearances by famous people, and a tale from the Titanic make this story a rich and enjoyable read.
This was a huge undertaking for any author and I'm glad Larson ventured to uncover this enthralling story, however more details of both the murders and the building of the city would have been welcomed. Still a fascinating read that for the first time makes me look forward to the movie so I can see the incredible White City come to life.
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this audible book. The two story lines are both wonderful and either one on their own would have been enough to keep me entertained.
A wonderfully researched and thoughtfully written book that is brought to life by a voice made to be listened to.
Do yourself a favour and get this one.
Speaker, Coach, Author - in Reno, NV (A GREAT place!) I've been an avid Audible fan for several years. Listen on my iPhone many hours each week.
WOW! My first Erik Larson book and definitely not my last. I only wish Scott Brick was the narrator for the one I just bought. From the first sentence through the last one, I was completely taken in by this story and this performance. I learned so much and I enjoyed every second of it. I can't even think of a book that was as "perfect" (I hate to use that word) as this one and definitely better to listen because of Scott Brick than it would have been if I had read it. It sounds like a novel but of course, it's true, which made it even more exciting. Loved it!!
A reader from day 1 now a listener too! Remember honesty in a review does help you decide, even if you don't agree!
In reading some of the lower rated reviews, I was hesitant to make this pick but now
I cannot think of a better way to tell the two intertwined stories presented here. They are the yin and yang of the event, and with the wonderful narration, and engrossing detail, the story flew along.....well, as fast as you can listen to those 14+ hours. Unlike other long downloads, this one kept me in the story, and I did not have to 'back-up' to remember the place....
The amazing scope of this Fair is awesome, and for the time history-making on so many fronts, from the Labor movement, to engineering, and sanitation, we can still see this Fair's footprint on our daily lives! Concurrently,
the gruesome serial-killer who took advantage of the circumstances is a potent reminder that there is always evil lurking just under the beautiful surface, and we cannot be too vigilant.
The narration was perfect, and this story will please the history buff, mystery or thriller reader in you.
I'll start by saying that, as much as I liked this audio book, it's really two stories that aren't wound together very well. That's OK because they're both good and worth time and attention. The bulk of the book is about the creation and execution of the Columbian Exposition, which is told in a way that is more interesting than one would expect. From the architectural challenges to the societal politics, from the adoption of AC current to the creation of the first Ferris Wheel, it was all far more interesting than I had expected. The addition of the extra story, of the sociopath serial killer HH Holmes, is timely enough so as not to stand out, but doesn't really flow as part of the story of the Exposition either. Holmes ran a ''hotel'' for young women going to the Fair, many of whom fatally disappeared, but Holmes crimes started before the Fair and continued after, so linking them is a bit of a stretch.
Scott Brick did an excellent job as the narrator, winning me over after a previous performance reading a book I couldn't finish because it was so bad. I hesitated when I saw his name, but there was no need,,,,he did a stellar job. The author too did an excellent job writing a very accessible book from a lot of well researched material.
This was one of the best books I've heard on Audible (and I listen to around 2 a week). True, there is a lot of detail, but unlike a few other readers, I didn't find one moment of it tedious.
I, of course, had heard of the Columbian Exposition, but I had no idea what a large role it played in the history of Chicago or the country. The descriptions of the building of the fair, the social classes and the side story about the murders gave me a good feel for the time and the attitudes of the people who lived then. It was also interesting to hear about people like Olmstead and how he worked.
I was fascinated by this book and spent a lot of time after I finished it looking at photos of the fair online.
The whole thing was like one of those great New Yorker articles about something you know nothing about but, once introduced, can't get enough of.
I knew very little about the Chicago Exposition and nothing about H.H. Holmes before listening to this book. What a juxtaposition between the two stories - one of great deeds and triumph and the other of such horror and tragedy.
Enjoyed this audio book... the history is amazing. Switching back and forth from the details of the construction of the Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer embedded within the mosaic of every-day life maintained my interest enough that I finished the book in several days. The details of inventions introduced at the times and the details of prominent (and not so well known) architects and inventors kept me busy figuring out who was who and what was what... but the return to the serial killer kept me grounded. The rich history embedded in the book was an education. My first audible book. GREAT... gonna get more!
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."
― Daniel H. Burnham
“His weakness was his belief that evil had boundaries.”
― Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City
A nice piece of narrative nonfiction that weaves together the story of the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair of 1893) with the story of the serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes.
White with black.
Achievement with horror.
Knowledge with ignorance.
Light with darkness.
Life with death.
This is kinda a brilliant construct: an alternating prose current of crazy and rational, evil and beautiful. I'm not sure if I could handle 400 pages of either subject without the other. The architecture piece was amazing, but didn't drive the narrative very hard. The characters, the architects, the dreamers, etc., were impressive. Daniel Hudson Turnham, Frederick Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan were all compelling because of their drive, their ego, their absolute resolution and certainty of success. They capture that Gilded Age ego and excess perfectly.
Conversely, the story of Dr. Holmes was at times almost too sick and twisted. Periodically, I would need a pause. I needed to leave the Holmes' dark Murder Castle to the White City for breath and sanity.
The limit of this book is the same limits that hit Capote's 'In Cold Blood' and Mailer's 'The Executioner's Song'. How do you exactly recreate a murder scene? How do you understand the victim? How do you understand the murderer? Especially when they either leave nothing behind or you can't trust what they've written. These narrative fictionalizations are probably necessary given the limits of information we have. But still, they are fictions. We can never really know what those women thought as they were trapped in the vault or what Dr. Holmes thought as he waited for someone to die in a trunk or vault. Larson admits this limit, but it ends up being a necessary facade, and one I can deal with.
Again, it isn't a perfect book. A bit too pop and a bit too loose with the Holmes facts. When dancing into that zone of fictionalized history he gets close to Capote and Mailer, but falls a bit short of the narrative masters of of murder.
First, I love the diverse architecture of Chicago and I grew up just North of the White City site. We could smell the stockyards whenever there was a South breeze (stinky on a hot evening). This is the first book I have read that brought this back to life for me. The interweaving of the three story lines (reviewers forget the 3rd story about the assassination of Mayor Carter Henry Harrison Sr and the hints sprinkled through the book about this). There is the design and building of White City for the World Columbian Exposition, one of the first and perhaps most prolific serial killers and a political assassination.
The latter two story lines serve to keep the primary story from becoming too dry for those who are not as enthusiastic as I may be about architecture and the Exposition's mark upon history.
One of my favorite places as a child and even now as I grow old and grey is the Museum of Science and Industry. This magnificent structure was built originally as the Palace of Fine Arts for the Exposition and designed by Charles Atwood. Though the original plaster material has been replaced by limestone and marble, the building is just as it was designed in 1893. That is just one small part of the living history told in this story.
I am amazed at how my own life weaves with this story in that I worked in the Rookery Building (Burnham and Root's office) for three years, I enjoy visiting what was the Palace of Fine Arts, my doctor is about 3 blocks from H.H.Holmes' second bulding on 63rd St so I am sure I have been past its location and then the La Rabida Children's Hospital which was the Columbus Memorial Building at the Exposition. Also what is now Osaka Gardens in Jackson Park was the building from Japan's 1893 Wooded Island exhibit.
My only complaint is the narrator. He kept pronouncing the name of the city where Mudgett's In-Laws lived, Wilmette, as 'Will-meet'. It is pronounced 'Will-met'. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard every time he said it!
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