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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America | [Erik Larson]

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Two men embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush toward the 20th century: Daniel Hudson Burnham, the brilliant director of works for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair; and Henry H. Holmes, who used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths.
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Publisher's Summary

Two men embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush toward the 20th century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham the brilliant director of works for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his "World's Fair Hotel" just west of the fairgrounds - a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws listeners into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others.

Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

©2003 Erik Larson; (P)2003 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"This is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of 'articulated' corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (327 )
5 star
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4.1 (99 )
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4.2 (97 )
5 star
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2 star
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Performance
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  •  
    KMP San Francisco, CA USA 04-21-03
    KMP San Francisco, CA USA 04-21-03 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wonderfully evocative, and well-presented"

    Tony Goldman's clear and dramatic reading of this fascinating book was a pleasure to listen to, and the story itself was riveting. I confess to paying closer attention to the depredations of HH Holmes rather than to some of the business dealings around the 1893 Chicago Fair, but the entwined story was quite well done, the historical period came alive in the telling, and I was sorry when the book came to a close, since I'd enjoyed it as a diverting story during long commutes.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    SST010 Atlanta, GA 07-24-03
    SST010 Atlanta, GA 07-24-03 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enthralling Story...best part - its true!"

    This is an enthralling account of history. I listened to most of it in my car and then when I was on the last disc I brought it into the house so that I could finish. My husband came home from work and found me sitting in the floor staring at the stereo.

    I love history! Most of my friends think I'm insane, they never even venture into that section of the bookstore. I've given this book (hardcover version) to several friends as gifts...told them enough of the story to get them hooked and then let them know it was all true.

    High School teacher's should use this book to show students that history isn't about memorizing dates and names but about understanding the lives, situations, decisions, mistakes and triumphs of those that came before us...and then using those experiences in your time.

    My only complaint about the audio book was that it was abridged...I read the hardcover as well and every word was worth hearing.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne Chicago, IL, USA 04-12-03
    Anne Chicago, IL, USA 04-12-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Art and Murder in Chicago"

    Fasinating and educational account of the history and architecture behind the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago; interwoven with the story of one of the world's first documented serial killers. You won't want to put it down!

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roman warren, MI, USA 02-21-03
    Roman warren, MI, USA 02-21-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "HISTORICAL WHODUNIT"

    Engrossing account of turn of the century Chicago. Rich with details of the Exposition and the bonus investigation of a psycopathic serial killer.

    13 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janet Raleigh, NC, USA 09-21-04
    Janet Raleigh, NC, USA 09-21-04
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    "Just enough detail"

    I'm glad I chose the abridged version for it had enough detail to follow the multiple story lines. I'm not sure I WANT to know any more about the murders although more about the Exhibition would've been interesting. I'm glad I listened because I knew next to nothing about the White City.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hilary Los Angeles, CA, USA 07-22-03
    Hilary Los Angeles, CA, USA 07-22-03 Member Since 2002
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    "Where have all the World's Fairs gone?"

    Frankly, I don't know what was more interesting- the improbability and final construction of the Chicago's World's Fair (you'll appreciate Ferris Wheels in a new way) or the audacity and inherent evil of the serial murderer that Larson describes. Well read and a wonderful account of a moment in history. Check out the pictures on the internet of Chicago's World's Fair- it was really grand.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Oren Wayne, NJ, USA 08-29-03
    Oren Wayne, NJ, USA 08-29-03 Member Since 2002
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    "2 great stories woven together"

    Two friends recommended 'Devil in the White City' to me and so I listened. Just over 100 years ago, before Ferris Wheels, Walt Disney Land, and reality TV, Chicago built a Worlds Fair and America was enthralled by one of its first pyscopaths. While these two stories are captivating on their own, woven together they feed off of each other and show two men at opposite ends of the spectrum - both trying to push the bounds of power.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chase Fairfax, VA, USA 05-10-03
    Chase Fairfax, VA, USA 05-10-03
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    "Riveting Listening"

    I was absolutely captivated by this fascinating tale of murder melded with the history of one of the most influential events in American history - the Columbian exposition. Larson retraces the history of the fair and the chilling escalation of H. H. Holmes' murderous appetite in a narrative that is fast-paced, colorful and captivating. Tony Goldwyn does an excellent job narrating.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barry Petaluma, CA, United States 08-03-12
    Barry Petaluma, CA, United States 08-03-12 Member Since 2006

    My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Moderately interesting"

    I know some people have said they really loved this book. I could never figure out why he chose to focus on these two stories in one book without ever being able to combine them. The murder story is interesting enough in its own way, especially if you're unfamiliar with this particular chapter of American history. The story of the Chicago World's Fair is more interesting. I had never appreciated how much world's fairs transformed the cities where they occurred or how much competition there was to outdo the last one. All the same, both stories come across as though they were written for the newspapers. That is, it's a kind of a dry reporting style, not likely to either excite or outrage. Unless, of course, you're one of those other people who really loved this book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adryan Lafayette, IN, United States 06-03-12
    Adryan Lafayette, IN, United States 06-03-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Lurid tale, average writing, solid reading"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    The link between architecture and homicidal insanity is unconvincing. Both the story of the World's Fair and the story of America's first serial killer are fascinating, but they don't match-up together as well as Larson would have us believe. The story necessitate some fascinating moments, but those moments are often told poorly. Larson clearly wants to build tension, leave his readers longing, and deal with the most grotesque moments with restraint and respect. He ends up instead sounding like he simply didn't complete his research, although I have no doubt he provide every available fact. I suspect that a touch of creative license would have made the book far more coherent and compelling. Larson also would have been better off if he had not picked up quite so many loose threads. While many of the side stories are interesting, they're so brief, and occur so sparingly throughout the main two plots, that they feel like incomplete distractions. Which is a shame, really. I would have loved to learn more about the worker's strike.


    Would you recommend The Devil in the White City to your friends? Why or why not?

    Absolutely. The book capture a fascinating moment in history quite vividly, and a few of the figures described even manage to wrangle a personality out of Larson.


    Could you see The Devil in the White City being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    This would make an exquisite visual text. There is so much imagery and essential architecture that I wish they'd make a mini-series out of it. Without a doubt, Cilian Murphy would make an excellent Holmes and wouldn't it be fun to have Stephen Rea play the detective who doggedly pursues him? As for the architects, I didn't get much of feel for any of them, nor did I for any of the female characters.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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