The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City

By Erik Larson

  • Release Date: 2004-02-10
  • Genre: United States
The Devil in the White City book review score

4.5 Score: 4.5 (From 1,327 Ratings)

The Devil in the White City Erik Larson Book Review Score: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars

In The Devil in the White City, the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

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 twentieth 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, 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 the reader 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.

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User reviews about this book

  • Surprisingly slow and boring!

    By Tashaww
    I thought it would be a murder mystery almost or at least fairly suspenseful. It is not! It’s incredibly SLOW and very boring. Unnecessarily long, he describes EVERY SINGLE DETAIL, including such stupidity of menu items! I has so many stories and other crap going on that it’s easy to loose track of what is even going on. Has barely anything to do with Holmes. It was way more about the fair. It’s ONLY redeeming factor is that it’s very well written. I’m shocked by the amount of people who “couldn’t put it down.”
  • Fave

    By Lizsmc1
    Loved this book
  • Vegan Author cannot focus

    By ybfree
    Allows his obvious vegan preferences to taint his story. Combine that with 5009 details about the world's Fair and what do ya got? The recycle bin. Read two chapters and deleted this forever.
  • Devil in the white city

    By A Smith.
    One of my all time favorites! This book is captivating and thrilling to the end!
  • A very thorough trip through old Chicago

    By Ferran275
    The writer put a large amount of work in to this book, and it really shows. Although I was hoping for more on Holmes (at least a fifty fifty split between him and the Worlds fair) I was not disappointed and learned quite a lot about the Worlds fair and the architects who made it happen. For a book about a man who we know almost nothing about, I agree with the writer's decisions when assuming what actions Holmes took in certain situations. Overall a very good read, a bit slow, but worth it.
  • Not what I expected

    By World's Fair
    There is much more in the story about the World's Fair and architecture than about Holmes. Those parts dragged at times and it was hard to get through the book. Some of it was very interesting but not really my cup of tea. If you are looking for a murder mystery I would keep looking.
  • Page-turning non-fiction

    By jorge_jjr
    THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is a page-turning narrative, made all the more compelling by the fact that is a work of non-fiction. While an engrossing read, I was frequently left wanting more. The prose is very mechanical—not particularly evocative, but easy and quick to read. The book focuses a whole lot more on the marvels of the 1983 World Fair than it does on its true crime tale, which is a pity. As fascinating as Burnham's story is and as curious as it is to lean about the Fair's tremendous impact in the final decade of the 19th century, HH Holmes is by far the most interesting figure, and he often wasn't featured as largely as I hoped he would. One thing is for certain, however—this will make a terrific film, especially in the hands of Scorsese and DiCaprio.
  • Too little; too late

    By Dandy reviewer
    The history of the fair was interesting--I didn't know that the Ferris wheel was developed there, but I agree w/ others that there are too many details, such as the menus of some dinners. Then, the author wraps up the Holmes saga rather hurriedly and without development. Why did the search for the children become nationwide front page news? No idea. What made the police think there was reason to search? No real discussion. Just as in Thunderstruck, the author is too busy telling two tales that have the most tenuous connection.
  • Great book

    By Ricky the Mick
    I never thought I would see a book that intertwined architecture and serial killing as well as this book. It started a little slowly but by the end I couldn’t put it down.
  • Monotonous to the Point of Painful

    By Erockerr024
    I was looking forward to this book, especially when I heard DiCaprio and Scorsese were trying to adapt it into a movie. The sample was good so I felt comfortable paying the 15$ to complete it. After the first few chapters however, it became really monotonous and just hard to keep focused on. I agree with the other reviews which state they were disappointed with how little the book had to do with Holmes. The alternating chapters between the story of the fair and Holmes' activities was a solid idea, but the chapters about the fair were usually 10x as long as the ones about Holmes. To make this book even remotely enjoyable that's the format that had to be taken because the story became so repetitious that 8 pages of Holmes was needed to stop me from reading altogether. "Oh, the fair grounds were huge and required a lot of work which seemed to NEVER get done. The plants didn't arrive, a storm hits and ruins a building, the workers go on strike, etc etc." Just when I was getting ready to close the book a chapter on Holmes would come up and regain my attention, but only slightly because that became RIDICULOUSLY monotonous as well. "Holmes was a charmer and ran up debts all over town but always avoided the law because he was so charming." It hardly even makes sense but you don't want to stop too long to think about what you're reading because you know you will come across basically the same passage and situation again in another 40 pages. Holmes gets another mistress that he bamboozles, then kills her, etc etc. More creditors come knocking, but oh! He does it again and charms his way out of it! Listen, I enjoy history and there is some interesting stories in this book, but wait for your friend who buys it to become bored with it and then borrow it from them. If you're looking for a book about Holmes, or even semi-related to Holmes, DO NOT BUY. That's another gripe I had. The title is Devil in the White City. About the same amount of time was spent on Holmes as the never ending illnesses that fell on Olmstead throughout the book.

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