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)
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!
Audio Addict! Usually listening to History these days. Love Will Durant most of all authors!
I purchased this book because it was recommended as an Audible Essential. Also, I love historical books with unique perspective of the past and eclectic characters.
"Professor and the Madman" is a great example.
This is the story of the incredible Chicago World Fair and of the many murders of H. H. Holmes, who built a cheap hotel to host the many young women coming to see the spectacle.
Seems interesting, right?
I was incredibly let down! This story has so much potential! To be sure, there are fascinating moments in this book, incredible characters, and important moments of history. (Susan B. Anthony's fantastic interaction with Buffalo Bill Cody, the spoiled Infanta of Spain and her terrible outbursts, the catty fights and antics of "Women Managers Committee", the unveiling of Ferris Wheel and the first electric chair, etc.)
Nickola Tesla, Samuel Clemens, Annie Oakley, young Walt Disney-- The list of interesting people and things that were part of the Chicago World Fair 1893 is endless.
The author's attempt at mixing the dual story lines was poorly executed. The wealth of information on the World Fair was elaborate and complex; the issues of the main characters and the city of Chicago to pull off the event were immense. Yet the murder mystery of Holmes was speculative, vague, and without proper details to understand his motive or his actions. I could not keep up with the many marriages, name changes and murders Holmes is thought to have committed. The murder story was a jumbled and confusing mess mixed in every few chapters with the intricate story of the Fair. It didn't work for me.
The author would have done better to write two separate books, instead of cramming these stories together. There was more than enough interesting detail for the book to focus on the World Fair alone. Holmes murder story was very rushed at the end. The result was anticlimactic, when the story of the murders could have been at its most intense.
It seems evident that this was rushed to the print.
As for the narration, I usually like Scott Brick. But in this performance, I was equally annoyed with the narration. I suppose his style lends to a story with a climax, like an intense mystery novel or the tragic adventure/exploration books I've heard him read. But in Devil in the White City, Brick's narration only added to the tease and the disappointing finale.
Husband, Dad, Principal, Adjunct prof, RC Deacon, radio co-host, story teller, NYer, walker, & occasional sipper of fine whisk(e)y,
The work is very interesting but lacked an intertwining I was expecting. The stories run side by side. It had me through out piece, but wanted more!
This book was more about the worlds fair anything to do with Holmes. It read more like a list of dry facts rather than an interesting recounting of Holmes' activities.
Stepped away from this one after listeneing for about three hours. Maybe I'll go back to it later and it will get better. Pretty slow, narraration made me feel sleepy and unfocused. Couldn't really get into the actual story.
This is a wonderfully engaging story and you'll learn a tremendous amount about the time period and players involved in two very different but very massive undertakings in Chicago around the eve of the Worlds Fair. The true historical events are told as compellingly (and in the style of) a novel. As a result it is a very easy to digest read but one I feel the writer, by nature, has had to take liberties filling in gaps. When we step inside the heads of some characters, or we hear intimate details of moments before some horrible murder (most of, if not all Holmes took to his execution) we have to assume more than a hundred years time lapse has earned Mr.Larson some wiggle room. My only complaint is he isn't more upfront regarding it, and doesn't often take time to differentiate when having to speculate. That being said take the story as a whole as truth, and the details 90% truth as well. It's a very very well researched true fiction novel, but not a textbook and not a definitive source for scholars to reference, in my opinion. The narration is perfect and condones a perfect mood of grandeur and determination to the subject matter. I suggest it to almost anyone.
I think I had the same caption for another Erok Larson book. Mother books are meticulously researched, and interesting, but they tend to run on past the point of interesting. I learned a lot, but I finished as and act of will, and not because the story compelled me. If you liked Larsons other work, you'll like this one too.
Enjoyed the history and commingling of historical events surrounding the fair. There is so much I didn't know or realize about the time, especially in Chicago, and I must visit Jackson Park next time I'm there.
At times the architecture bits got draggy but Holmes bits were always interesting in a macabre way. The reader's over dramatic style of voicing the text was the only real draw back.
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