NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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.
“Relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel .... It doesn’t hurt that this truth is stranger than fiction.” —The New York Times
Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
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 the enchantment of the Guilded Age, 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The most remarkable (and shocking) thing about Erik Larson’s detailed account of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is that it’s all true. Larson takes us on a time-machine trip to the Gilded Age in the U.S., mapping out the prevailing national mood and fascinating historical milestones. The Devil in the White City opened our eyes to cool facts; we'd already known that this World’s Fair introduced the Ferris wheel but were surprised to learn that it also marked the debut of the zipper and a U.S. map made entirely of pickles. Ultimately, though, the book is a spine-tingling crime thriller, which explains why it captured the attention of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, who are adapting it into a movie.
Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac's Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of the vast fair and Holmes's relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes's co-star, architect and fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile Durkheim's Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of "articulated" corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed. 6 b&w photos, 1 map.
Engrossing book start finish!
Read this book while traveling - couldnt put it down. It's an entertaining blend of history, drama and psychology - historical non-fiction at it's best!
The book is two stories, told in mostly alternating chapters. It is well researched and grippingly told. I had little knowledge of the Chicago Columbian Exposition. I was amazed at the great feat of its creation as well as the tremendous influence it had on everything from snack food to theme parks to architecture in the century to follow. Of course the real life murder story adds an additional dimension that will keep you glued to the pages.
The Devil in the White City
I thought this book was bogged down with way too many details. I loved reading about the World's Fair but did not need to know everything ( and I mean everything) about it. I didn't feel the need to know menus from dinners and suffer through debates about which plants to put on the fairgrounds. It got tedious at times and I just had to put it down. I skipped long sections of this book and still got the whole story. The murder aspect of the book was fascinating and I really wanted more of that. This book could have been cut in half in my opinion.