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)
This was my first entry into the land of audiobooks and I picked a gem. The author makes what could have been a dry and difficult read into an interesting and exciting narrative. He moves through the complex of lives touched by the events surrounding the 1993 Columbian Exhibition seamlessly. It delves into such varied areas as architecture, engineering, landscaping, city management, politics, social structure and forensic and criminal investigation, showing how each connects to the story and holding the interest of the reader thoughout. The narration of the book is clear and easy to listen to. All in all an excellent audiobook!
This book is creepy to read, but fascinating. It justaposes the wonders of the 1892 Columbian Exposition with a conscience-less serial murder, both of which are remarkable in many ways. Recommend if you have an interest in technology, architecture, and/or project planning, or crime (and have a strong stomach).
I absolutely was enthralled in this book! It captivated my interest so much that I purchased a couple of more books on the Chicago World's Fair. An absolute must read for anyone who appreciates history!
Since I finished listening to this a few months ago I have brought up stories about it many, many times. It is the best book I've heard or read in a long time. And I read a lot.
Recently I bought two hard copies at a bookstore to give away. The book is so fascinating. So many developments and inventions are still influencing our lives! I'd list them, but that would give away some of the stories.
The story keeps you listening. And, the book is based on hard facts. The author lists his research and credits at the end.
I don't often write reviews, but this book just had to be praised online, not just to everyone I see in person.
I normally don't read non-fiction. I listen to books on tape (or electronic format) while I drive, and I prefer mindless entertainment. I'm a fan of mysteries. I got this book because my husband (we commute together) really wanted to read it. I was surprised to find that I loved it! There was a great mystery/thriller "plot" alongside a fascinating historical account of the Chicago World's Fair. It made our most recent trip to Chicago much more meaningful to know so much of the history of the city.
This is by far the best book in a long time. I learned a lot of history about the World's Fair along with a very interesting murder/suspense. If you are addicted to some learning with you fiction this is it.
What a wonderful book. Both stories spellbinding and true. I lived within 8 or 10 blocks of all of this as a grade school student and never knew the story of the exposition. My favorite haunt, the Museum of science and Industry, was a part of it. The Midway plaza at the University of Chicago was the original "Midway". Don't miss it. It is a story of American History that helped shape today.
This is not the type of book that I usually listen to but I found it totally absorbing. The two stories were educational and entertaining at the same time. I would never have experienced this book if it had not been for Audible! Thanks
audio addict! Mostly interested in history and some historical fiction. Will Durant is my all time favorite. Loving the Great Courses too.
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.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - 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.
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