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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

Overall

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5.0
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Story

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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  • 3 Stars
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  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

It's not the gripping, but it's still good

If you could sum up The Devil in the White City in three words, what would they be?

I initially wanted to read this book because I have a fascination with HH Holmes and the year that the World's Fair descended upon Chicago. The book can get a bit bogged down in unnecessary details, while tending to give a lackluster focus on the actual man himself. I was hoping for more of a narrative on the extremely strange and rare set of circumstances that birthed America's first recorded serial killer, but instead, I got extremely detailed information of building specs for the hotel and an unusually large amount of data on the area at the time. It got a bit boring.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

I was hoping for more of a narrative on the extremely strange and rare set of circumstances that birthed America's first recorded serial killer

If you could give The Devil in the White City a new subtitle, what would it be?

Building America's first serial killer

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • lynn
  • louisville, Cayman Islands
  • 03-19-15

A couple notches lower than "meh"

I wanted to like this. I tried. Great topic, interesting situation. Maybe it was better as a book. For me it felt like reading a map or 14 hours of "A +B-W= h and then Q\W".
Hours and hours.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Highly Compelling

Magnificent book, beautifully read. Great story, chock full of fascinating characters. Sheds light on the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-century America in ways I hadn't expected. One of my top three favorite Audible listens.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Great Read!

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Paul
  • Scarborough, ON, Canada
  • 09-30-05

LONG- but interesting

Enjoyed this audio book... the history is amazing. Switching back and forth from the details of the construction of the Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer embedded within the mosaic of every-day life maintained my interest enough that I finished the book in several days. The details of inventions introduced at the times and the details of prominent (and not so well known) architects and inventors kept me busy figuring out who was who and what was what... but the return to the serial killer kept me grounded. The rich history embedded in the book was an education. My first audible book. GREAT... gonna get more!

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Joel
  • Mill Valley, CA, United States
  • 09-06-12

An Astounding Listen

You might not be able to tell from my previous reviews, given that I have heaped praise on a number of books here, but I am pretty picky. If I don't like something, if I am struggling to get through it, I just stop. What is left are books that I find generally engaging, fascinating, and overall an enjoyable experience.

Topping just about everything I've listened to in the past 12 months or so that I've been a member is this nearly perfect story. Erik Larson's narrative non-fiction is among the best available in any form. This story of the interweaving of herculean city building and evil incarnate is nearly unbelievable. Neither story feels like it could have taken place in the reality we inhabit. But as we all too often know, real life can be quite jarring, unbelievable, and amazing.

So it is with the most fervent recommendation that I suggest you read/listen to this book. Do it because the writing is impeccable. Do it because Erik Larson has set a new standard for whatever genre this actually falls into. And do it because you will finish the book with a newfound appreciation for Chicago, its roots, and the work of men to build things, discover things, and, ultimately, be greater than human in a time that often tried to stop them from doing so.

Oh, and Scott Brick is fantastic here. I want to say more about his reading, but the quality of the overall work itself drawfs anything else in its wake. Just know that Scott Brick does a great job, and his work here is another reason that I seek out books that he narrates, just as I do with a few other top-tier readers.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Patrick
  • Lexington, SC, USA
  • 02-11-05

The Devil in the White City

I bought this book based on the glowing reviews but I have to say now almst 3 hours in I am really starting to wonder. It is a nice depiction of Chicago, and perhaps if I accept it as a history lesson and not the murder mystery I thought I was getting, it will be better.

It just seems like there is a great story here but the author does not bring the characters alive to me. I want more dialog not the endless narration of a very repetitive nature.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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Just not for me

This book was recommended by a family member about 2 years ago and popped up as an audible recommendation so I gave it a shot. I gave up after 6 hours of simultaneously being bored and annoyed by the narrators rhythm and inflection. The story is tediously slow moving, and transitions between character storylines are clumsy and without a common theme other then relative timeline in history. I may try the old fashioned hard copy because I think it’s an interesting part of American history, but as an audio book it fell flat for me.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

A lot of stuff should have been left out

One part of the story was about bourgeoisie project management. Indeed, the part about the men behind the Chicago world fair read like an article from the New Yorker that just wouldn't end.
The other (and rather unrelated) part of the book was about H.H. Holmes, one of America's worst killers. Fascinating stuff.
Weirdly enough the story lost steam once the chase for the killer got going. Had I been the editor, it would have been very different. 'Dead Wake' by Erik Larson was a lot better.
Scott Brick did an excellent job reading.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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Historical richness

The onslaught of details overwhelmed me to start, but I am glad I stuck with it. I soon became entranced in the drama and details. Nicely done!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful