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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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    7,406
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  • 3 Stars
    1,787
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Performance

  • 4.4 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
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  • Story

Too much background wordy.

This book tried to write about two stories, and I feel missed the boat on both. If you wanted to know the mechanics of the World Fair then you might enjoy. The serial killer story was so vague it shouldn't have even been included other than a side note. Too many characters to easily follow.

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Can't recommend this one. Too much talk of architecture, not enough HH Holmes.

Can't recommend this one. Too much talk of architecture, not enough HH Holmes.

I got this book for the HH Holmes story and knew about the world fair being a parallel story. I found the world fair history interesting but it was way too involved, way way too involved. Just boring and the two stories were so different and not intertwined that I felt like I was listening to two different books.
Maybe that was the point but I didn't care for it.

Obviously the world fair was documented extensively but there was a lot of reaching on the HH Holmes story as it wasn't documented as much.

Honestly I found The Last Podcast on the left to be much more informative.

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Holmes

If you're reading just for the Holmes story, this isn't the book for you. The title is misleading in that it intimates that the book is mainly about Holmes (the titular devil) in the white city of Chicago. This is not the case. I would say that about a sixth of this book is about Holmes and his victims while the rest is about the architects and other social luminaries that helped to create the worlds fair in Chicago. This wasn't what I was looking for, so it wasn't right for me, but if you're a history buff that likes architecture or landscape design, then it's perfect for you.

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  • Snow Brenner
  • High Point, North Carolina United States
  • 01-24-17

Fascinating!!!!

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

Story of the Chicago World's Fair & so much more!!! Great depth of characters!

What about Scott Brick’s performance did you like?

Wonderful but... not sure if it was the connection in my car or the recording but it repeated a few sentences 4-5 times.

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Good read well put together information

Lots of great stories put together in a way that made it compelling... Although the story ... as can be expected ... was a little gruesome in places.

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Very compelling story

This is a fascinating telling of two true stories on a common thread; the creation of the 1893 Chicago Colombian Exhibition and the related story of one of America's first and most notoserial killers. The interweaving of both stories is both fascinating and effective. Larson is great story teller and I couldn't wait to get to the next chapter as the story unfolded. I highly recommend this book and the audio performance.

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Facts more frightening than fiction

A thrilling look into dark shadows cast by the bright White City of Chicago. A thoroughly satisfying experience and no less potent when revisiting.

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Two parallel narratives, neither very engaging

I'm very late to the game for this one but decided I had to give it a try based on the rave reviews and word of mouth over the years. My past reluctance to spend a credit on this one was driven by the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of historical narratives or architecture.

Based on the description of "The Devil in the White City" as a dynamic weaving of related stories, I was really hoping that this book was going to play more as a historical (or quasi-historical) thriller a la Caleb Carr's "The Alienist". I was wrong.

The book is two stories told in parallel...one of the development, building, and execution of the Chicago World's Fair and one of a serial killer who was active in Chicago at the time of the fair. The two pieces are barely related and never intersect with their only commonality being in the time and place of occurrence.

Overall, the story is no greater than the sum of its parts. I wouldn't bother with this one if you're not already interested in the topic of architecture, Chicago history, or the Chicago's World Fair. This is the main focus of the novel, probably comprising a good 70% of the book. The serial killer narrative serves to break up the historical narrative of the fair but doesn't add much in the way of tension, intrigue, or action. I found neither story truly engaging but I did think the novel as a whole good enough to finish for whatever that's worth.

The story also contains another light sub-plot about the assassination of Chicago's mayor but it feels like an aside and has no bearing on either the narrative of the World's Fair or the story of the serial killer. Given that it probably takes up only 20 minutes of the entire book's reading time it could likely be removed altogether and nobody would miss it.

Good performance from the narrator, very straightforward and well-read with only minor theatrical embellishments. Very fitting for the subject and writing style.

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Would not recommend.

This is a book about the tedious business transactions and plans of a group of architects in their quest to establish the World's Fair in Chicago....which would be fine, if the title and synopsis didn't indicate that this is a book about a murderer. If you're looking for mystery or suspense, do not pursue this book.

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Devil in the White City

Erik Larson is a master historian yet out does this expertise with his artful storytelling. I will read everything he's written.