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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Best Seller • The true tale of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the cunning serial killer who used the magic and majesty of the fair to lure his victims to their death.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the 20th century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, DC. 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 the listener 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 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)

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What listeners say about The Devil in the White City

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

136 people found this helpful

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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.

44 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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mhh... like walking through mud with snowshoes

If you want a book about architecture and the worlds fair this is for you. If you are looking for something exciting, look elsewhere.

15 people found this helpful

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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.

63 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • D
  • 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.

243 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

43 people found this helpful

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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!

9 people found this helpful

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Turning History into Tedium

I was massively disappointed in this book. The narrator, Scott Brick, is great as always. But, the writing and storytelling were sub-par. I was very interested in the topic and had looked forward to learning about something brand new.
As soon as the narrative began, I realized that the author was caught between telling a story and retelling history. He failed at both. Attempts to create suspense fell flat because he was recounting known historical facts. Attempts to create character-depth fell flat because he could only have them speak in the small snippets of dialogue culled from historical documents. Not one person seemed real to me and yet they were all historical figures! Because the author stuck by historical facts and evidence only, he hobbled his own freedom to create vibrant people which I could care about. Larson ends up describing people, describing their words and describing their actions. It didn't seem that the characters were actual people, speaking and acting.
I was fascinated by the fair but the author dragged me into minutiae that felt irrelevant to the story. And, I'm generally a great lover of minutiae.
The murderous Holmes was approached and described as though the author himself were a product of the end of the nineteenth century - constrained by prim social mores and avoiding saying anything crude, explicit or graphic about the murderer. It takes a true lack of writing talent to turn a vile killer into a tedious character.
I suspect that most other listeners will disagree with my point of view. But, two very exciting subjects were ground into a fine dust of tedium by Erik Larson.

23 people found this helpful

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STOP THIS IS SO BORING!!!!

The narrator was great, the story was awful. i am a true crime junkie and co up ld not wait to get this book. At 6 hours in i could not figure out why eveyone love yhis book....it is all about the architects of the world fair...in 6 hours i think that they only mention Hh 3 times. Not a great story.

6 people found this helpful

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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!!

26 people found this helpful