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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.

Critic Reviews

  • 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 Ratings


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  • Overall
  • D
  • Peekskill, NY, USA
  • 09-18-03

A Rich Read!

I enjoyed this listen so much I lost sleep to continue listening. Scott Brick is my favorite narrator and he doesn't disappoint here. Set in Chicago in the late 1800's the book tells two stories. The fascinating story of Chicago's rush to build the White City and hold the World Fair of 1893 (celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America and visited by everyone who was anyone); as well as the murderous actions of Herman Mudgett (a.k.a. HH Holmes) a well respected doctor who preyed on young trusting women, and anyone else who got in his way.

The author writes in such a way that you can truly imagine the excitement and boom happening in that place and time. Other added details such as the detectives' intense search for evidence, appearances by famous people, and a tale from the Titanic make this story a rich and enjoyable read.

This was a huge undertaking for any author and I'm glad Larson ventured to uncover this enthralling story, however more details of both the murders and the building of the city would have been welcomed. Still a fascinating read that for the first time makes me look forward to the movie so I can see the incredible White City come to life.

183 of 197 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Kelly
  • Colorado Springs
  • 06-18-14

two excellent stores read by a superb narrator

My daughter was assigned this book as part of her summer reading for her Honor's English class. I got to it first and spent two nights awake until dawn listening in wonder. I expected a murder mystery set in the World's Fair. It was so much more. Really there were two stories running concurrently. We did follow HH Holme and know what he was up to while living in Chicago. There was nothing gruesome -- Mr Larson writes about Holmes' machinations in a straightforward way. For me this mad it feel less sensational and I was glad for the writing style.

The other story interested me further. Following the preparation for, the buildup towards, and the financial consequences of the Fair was fascinating. It allows the reader to understand the culture of our home country at a time more than 100 years in our past. We meet world leaders, owners of the largest businesses, the father of a son who later be known as WALT DISNEY. But we also meet people that some might not recognize. FREDERICK LAW OLMSTEAD played a large role throughout the book. It was fascination t flesh out his life as I knew him only as the designer of Central Park in New York. Interspersed throughout the entire story are came performances. I particularly liked the the short moment shared between Pulham and Helen Keller.

i loved everything about the book -- with one caveat. Really more advice. Don't let your mind wander. You won't want to miss any of the hidden gems.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Michael
  • Mill Valley, CA, United States
  • 05-26-12

Impossible to stop listening

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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

well written, well researched, well read

I'll start by saying that, as much as I liked this audio book, it's really two stories that aren't wound together very well. That's OK because they're both good and worth time and attention. The bulk of the book is about the creation and execution of the Columbian Exposition, which is told in a way that is more interesting than one would expect. From the architectural challenges to the societal politics, from the adoption of AC current to the creation of the first Ferris Wheel, it was all far more interesting than I had expected. The addition of the extra story, of the sociopath serial killer HH Holmes, is timely enough so as not to stand out, but doesn't really flow as part of the story of the Exposition either. Holmes ran a ''hotel'' for young women going to the Fair, many of whom fatally disappeared, but Holmes crimes started before the Fair and continued after, so linking them is a bit of a stretch.

Scott Brick did an excellent job as the narrator, winning me over after a previous performance reading a book I couldn't finish because it was so bad. I hesitated when I saw his name, but there was no need,,,,he did a stellar job. The author too did an excellent job writing a very accessible book from a lot of well researched material.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Entrancing historical thriller

In reading some of the lower rated reviews, I was hesitant to make this pick but now
I cannot think of a better way to tell the two intertwined stories presented here. They are the yin and yang of the event, and with the wonderful narration, and engrossing detail, the story flew along.....well, as fast as you can listen to those 14+ hours. Unlike other long downloads, this one kept me in the story, and I did not have to 'back-up' to remember the place....
The amazing scope of this Fair is awesome, and for the time history-making on so many fronts, from the Labor movement, to engineering, and sanitation, we can still see this Fair's footprint on our daily lives! Concurrently,
the gruesome serial-killer who took advantage of the circumstances is a potent reminder that there is always evil lurking just under the beautiful surface, and we cannot be too vigilant.
The narration was perfect, and this story will please the history buff, mystery or thriller reader in you.

48 of 57 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Cayce
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 10-07-06

Completely engrossing

This was one of the best books I've heard on Audible (and I listen to around 2 a week). True, there is a lot of detail, but unlike a few other readers, I didn't find one moment of it tedious.

I, of course, had heard of the Columbian Exposition, but I had no idea what a large role it played in the history of Chicago or the country. The descriptions of the building of the fair, the social classes and the side story about the murders gave me a good feel for the time and the attitudes of the people who lived then. It was also interesting to hear about people like Olmstead and how he worked.

I was fascinated by this book and spent a lot of time after I finished it looking at photos of the fair online.

The whole thing was like one of those great New Yorker articles about something you know nothing about but, once introduced, can't get enough of.

17 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Audra
  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • 10-13-03

Couldn't take my earphone out...

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this audible book. The two story lines are both wonderful and either one on their own would have been enough to keep me entertained.

A wonderfully researched and thoughtfully written book that is brought to life by a voice made to be listened to.

Do yourself a favour and get this one.

53 of 64 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

The Best Book I've Listened to in at Least a Year!

WOW! My first Erik Larson book and definitely not my last. I only wish Scott Brick was the narrator for the one I just bought. From the first sentence through the last one, I was completely taken in by this story and this performance. I learned so much and I enjoyed every second of it. I can't even think of a book that was as "perfect" (I hate to use that word) as this one and definitely better to listen because of Scott Brick than it would have been if I had read it. It sounds like a novel but of course, it's true, which made it even more exciting. Loved it!!

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ed
  • Saint Augustine, FL, United States
  • 06-21-11

Cold blooded Architectural Digest

I'm sure people who loved this book will disagree with me but my expectations were far from met after wading through 15 hours of listening. I thought the connection between H.H. Holmes and the Chicago World's Fair was tedious at best. Larson might have done just as well to insert a photo of a scantily clad girl from the gay '90s every 25 pages or so. Of course, that would have proved problematic for Audible customers. If you like "architectural talk" and the behind-the-scences motivations of those involved in the trade, then this is a book for you. That's especially true if you also like a sprinkling of "serial killer story" with your description of building and landscape architecture. This book was well researched and well written, hence the three stars. It just wasn't for me. (The last 50 minutes summarized the first 14 hours and would have sufficed.)

41 of 53 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Debra
  • Petaluma, CA, USA
  • 11-05-03


I knew very little about the Chicago Exposition and nothing about H.H. Holmes before listening to this book. What a juxtaposition between the two stories - one of great deeds and triumph and the other of such horror and tragedy.

31 of 40 people found this review helpful