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)
The story is a compelling one--set at the turn of the century in Chicago in 1904, the author covers both one of the largest serial killers in American History and weaves him in and out of the architectural extravaganza that is the Chicago World's Fair.
That is probably both the strength and the weakness of the book, however--I feel that there were possibly two short books available here rather than one longer one. While the writing is good, and the narration well performed, the interweaving of the stories neither deepened my understanding of either subject nor provided me with a greater emotional impact moving back and forth.
I would recommend the book if you generally enjoy reading history, particularly mid-AMerican history, if the serial killer bit doesn't turn you off. If you're more into serial killer histories, this one is interesting (due to his relatively unique, custom made house) but much more conjecture due to the lack of detail in the historical record.
I was impressed with this book, great job at gathering all of the historical information. I was struck to find out this book records the first documented serial killer in America. The book described why Chicago is called the "windy city" and is not because of the winds from the Great Lakes, it was the "vocal war" between New York and Chicago to hold the first World Fair.
This book guides you through history unfolding great forgotten events in the United States of America: the World Fair, the Chicago Ferris Wheel built for the world fair against all odds, the Columbus anniversary and the infamous Herman Webster Mudgett - aka Dr. Henry Howard Holmes and his "cattle of death".
This book should be a mandatory reading in the U.S. educational system.
The juxtaposition of the murder stories and the history of the Chicago Worlds Fair. I love history, but prefer it in a story format so this was right up my alley.
Scott Brick's reading style just killed this one for me. Be sure to listen to a sample before you commit to hours of his style of reading. There's no dialog, so it's just you and Scott. He reminded me of the self-important newscaster on the old Mary Tyler Moore show. The books has lots of interesting historical facts, but I think would be better read than listened to. All those details and dates you would have scanned in a book are boomed into your ears. Skip it.
Of the 30+ books I've listened to since 2009, The Devil in the White City is one of the best experiences. Erik Larson's writing is sublime. He conjures the Chicago of the late nineteenth century so clearly that he might be documenting events that occurred yesterday. The stories about the design, organization, and construction of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair as well as the personalities involved are all utterly fascinating. The macabre portions that deal with serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes are so bizarre as to almost be unbelievable. While listening to this book, I found myself continually thinking, "Truth truly is stranger than fiction."
Prior to my listen I was apprehensive about the narrator, Scott Brick, who had also done Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life. I felt that Brick's reading of that book was slightly stilted, but his performance of Devil in the White City is pitch perfect.
My first foray into historical fiction. As I was flying to Chicago I listened to this book. It was brilliant. I eventually annoyed everybody discussing the many facts I discovered about Chicago's World's Fair. But the listen was beautifully narrated and was extremely entertaining. A great read! You won't be disappointed.
The portrait of our nation's first serial killer, that we were aware of, is more interesting than the politics behind Chicago's World Fair. Perhaps I wasn't listening close enough--but I fail to see the connection. This is a book to read rather than listen to...to get the most out of it.
If I lose focus, I can always flip back through the pages for clarification. Not as easy on an MP3 player.
I hold a BA in History from York University of Toronto; a 3yr Diploma in Computer Networking from Sheridan College in Oakville Ontario. I have been "reading" audio books sinces the late 80s and a member of Audible back to 2004. What a really like is a good long story preferable over 30 hours. :)
There really are 2 very different stories in this book. One is about a serial killer and the other is about the planing, building, and excuse of the Chicago's World Fair. The two share common themes and there is plenty of darkness in both stories. In fact quiet a bit more darkness then I was able to take in places. I found the story line of the world fair wonderful and personally could have done without the serial killer.
Performance was an easy listen and drew me into each segment.
Yes, very apt to have listened continuously
While I'm not a history buff, I enjoyed learning about the Worlds Fair in general and the back story kept my interest
I love history and murder suspense stories are another of my favorite categories but this book just didn't catch my intrest. Scott Brick is always wonderful narrating but even he couldn't salvage this story. The few little facts of interest kept me going along with the recommendation of a friend. But I just can't say I will EVER bother going back to this one.
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