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The Devil in the White City | [Erik Larson]

The Devil in the White City

In a thrilling narrative showcasing his gifts as storyteller and researcher, Erik Larson recounts the spellbinding tale of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Also available abridged.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential - A master storyteller and veteran thriller narrator join forces to create this riveting true account of Chicago’s famous World Fair. But behind its Gilded Age of architectural feats and electrical innovation, lies a murderer waiting in the wings. True crime, history, and thriller fans are in for a treat. —Diana M.

Publisher's Summary

In a thrilling narrative showcasing his gifts as storyteller and researcher, Erik Larson recounts the spellbinding tale of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

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.

What the Critics Say

  • Edgar Allan Poe Award Winner, Fact Crime, 2004

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Myron 02-02-08
    Myron 02-02-08
    ratings
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    "review2"

    Enthralling story; good sound and audibility. Portays the works of architect geniuses and a psychopath. Due to descriptive violence, would not recommend for children.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L 01-21-08
    L 01-21-08
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    "chicago history becomes a murder mystery"

    the chicago world's fair left american with some interesting iconic products, architecture, and really put chicago on the map. intertwining this with a serial murderer's rampage makes for an interesting historical tale. my hat is off to the author for painstakingly researching the subjects. well worth reading.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. Neumar LI, NY 11-11-07
    L. Neumar LI, NY 11-11-07 Member Since 2009

    craft lover

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting"

    Larson takes his readers through the harrowing, planning, building and creation of the 1893 Chicage World's Fair. The Fairgrounds, dubbed The White City because of its so-called beauty, was believed to be impossible to construct due to adverse conditions and time constraints. However, political influence brought to bear decided location, and Fair content. Larson's meticulous research through diaries, police reports and notes, has allowed this otherwise dry litany to come alive. He has successfully drawn a parallel between good and evil intertwined with the development of the Fair. Henry Holmes, (evil) built a hotel in close proximity to the Fair and along with rooms and offices, designed a dissection table, gas chamber and crematorium in which many unsuspecting victims, many of them women, met their fate. Although I am not necessarily a fan of this type of literature, Larson has successfully created a work that held my attention and supplied me with some surprising information (famous names such as Disney connected with the Fair) that I would otherwise not have had knowledge of.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Leonard silberman 10-29-07 Member Since 2014
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    "Well-researched and interesting"

    I like books where I learn something true and new. This book certainly provided that opportunity -- from the first Ferris Wheel to Columbus Day to forensics in the late 1800's to Frank Lloyd Wright's beginnings to the perspective of a landscape architect... I loved the details. I could see, smell, and hear the city. I felt the drama of the World's Fair and the horror of the murders. The book was very detailed -- but not excessively so and it was rarely redundant.

    On the other hand, this was a difficult book in an auditory format. There were many characters and it would be helpful sometimes to be able to look back to remember who people were.

    I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bob Maryland, USA 07-22-07
    Bob Maryland, USA 07-22-07 Member Since 2014

    Bob

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    "Leave the lights on"

    This is a true, but eerie book, and I would recommend those who are afraid of the dark to leave the lights on while listening to this book. The Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893 is the setting. The fair was huge and the story about the fair and the everyday items that come to life in the story. BUT, there is a subplot. One that needs the lights on for the faint of heart. This is about Dr. H. H. Holmes. It is what this man does that is the intrigue of the subplot. Fasten your seatbelts and listen to a well written story of two seemingly unrelated events.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan Bellevue, WA, USA 06-17-07
    Susan Bellevue, WA, USA 06-17-07
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    "Well researched, but boring!"

    Larsen clearly did his homework in researching "The Devil in the White City", and he has provided a painstaking chronicle of the history of the Chicago World's Fair. I enjoyed the contrast of the White City (the Fair) and the Black City (serial murder), and I like the way the city of Chicago came alive as a character in the book. Nevertheless, the detailed back stories of the architects were dry, boring, and far too long. It also seemed as though the tempo of the book was disrupted when the author followed H.H. Holmes after he left Chicago. I was immensely interested in how he was caught, but the Chicago focus was lost.

    I've not heard other books narrated by Scott Bricker, and frankly I felt that he did this book a disservice. He used an arrogant, haughty tone - perhaps appropriate for the passages about Holmes, who thought he was smarter than everybody else. But this pompous manner was unwavering throughout the book, so that the architects - the fair's movers and shakers - also came off as pretentious. I can't help but wonder if I would have liked the book better had I read the printed version...

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Los Angeles, CA, United States 12-06-06
    Matthew Los Angeles, CA, United States 12-06-06
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    "Entertaining"

    This book is most interesting in its depiction of the turn-of-the-century Columbian World's Fair in Chicago at the close of the 19th century. It's an engrossing tale about how the world was changed by this enormous event. The details that the author focuses on illuminates the struggle of personalities and physical obstacles that faced those charged to make Chicago's world fair outdo any that had come before. Simultaneously, the story of the murderous Holmes, a psychotic serial killer encamped just near the fair, is chilling due to the fact that the book is based upon the known facts of the real crimes. Unfortunately, the stories of the killer and the World's Fair architechts never dovetail, as we hope they might, and that might have made for a more compelling story. Nevertheless the book is a great read. It succeeds more in the reportage and drama of pulling off such a feat as the Fair, less so in the horror category of the murders. When you listen, go on the internet and look up actual photos of the Columbian Exposition... they exist, and they add quite a visual punch to what you're hearing described in the novel. This reader is great, too, btw. All books he's read have been fun to listen to.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tracey denver, CO, USA 09-14-06
    Tracey denver, CO, USA 09-14-06 Member Since 2008
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    "strangely fascinating"

    I did not realize this was mostly about architecture and the construction of 19th century America and the Chicago fair, and I probably would not have ordered it had I known. I'm glad I did not know -- I found the work of Burnham and Root, of Olmstead and his vision, fascinating, and I'm enriched for listening to every detail.

    The Holmes murder story is deeply compelling, but a bit odd when interlaced with the story of the fair. Still, both stories held my interest throughout, and I couldn't wait to get back to my car to finish.

    I do think the book could use some editing, and the reader is a bit of a drone. Still, a surprisingly rewarding book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pam Los Angeles, CA, USA 05-18-06
    Pam Los Angeles, CA, USA 05-18-06
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    "As Good As It Gets"

    The story was captivating, the reading was spot on; the writing was terrific. I wish I had better adjectives to describe the work. I resisted buying it - Historical? ugh. World's Fair?? Come on! Of course there is murder and mayhem...As it turned out, the M & M was the least interesting aspect. I found myself thinking about that damn fair for WEEKS afterwards(!) - spouting details and trivia about its creation to anyone who would listen (the pool of which became smaller and smaller). An absolutely fabulous book. Most highly recommended.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jesse Acton, MA, USA 05-13-06
    Jesse Acton, MA, USA 05-13-06
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    "A thriller and yet non-fiction"

    The 1893 Chicago World's Fair , the architect who built it and the serial killer who haunts it. Incredible journalistic writing; reads like a thriller, but chillingly, it is all fact.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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