The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed America by Erik LarsonThe Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed America by Erik Larsonsticker-burst

The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed America

byErik Larson

Paperback | February 10, 2004

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Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller In The Garden of Beasts—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. 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.

Heather's Review

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.

see all heather's picks
ERIK LARSON is the author of four national bestsellers: In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm, which have collectively sold more than 5.5 million copies. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and other publications and his books have been pu...
Title:The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed AmericaFormat:PaperbackDimensions:464 pages, 7.98 × 5.17 × 0.91 inPublished:February 10, 2004Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0375725601

ISBN - 13:9780375725609

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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Didn't like it much I guess I expected a great book as it had the Heather's pick sticker on it but I struggled to finish it. Didn't enjoy it.
Date published: 2017-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Book I read another book by Eric Larson (In the Garden of Beasts) and decided to try this one is audiobook form for a long roadtrip. I loved the story and the reading was clear but I found it a bit monotonous at times...but that could be just be because it was a long trip! Would recommend.
Date published: 2017-12-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Currently Reading It's a harder read. Some of the chapters are extremely dry, some are extremely interesting. It all depends on the day.
Date published: 2017-11-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Creepy and Fascinating Though this would be a little more exciting but it was actually quite interesting and pretty creepy at times. I kept waiting for it to be a little more scary but the historical detail and dry humour kept me entertained. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-11-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Creepy and Fascinating Though this would be a little more exciting but it was actually quite interesting and pretty creepy at times. I kept waiting for it to be a little more scary but the historical detail and dry humour kept me entertained. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-11-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, not as exciting as I was lead to believe A really great idea and concept. It is interesting to follow the story as it unfolds, but it won't be a book I recommend or pick up again. While it is a good story, and has the bones of the type of book I would normally love, I found myself only picking it up for a few minutes at a time and losing interest and putting it down. I was reaching for other books in my collection over this one.
Date published: 2017-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Being a True Crime Junky I knew the story of H.H. Holmes however loved Larson's telling of it!
Date published: 2017-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SOOO GOOOD!! such a good read! a history book that reads like a novel!
Date published: 2017-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from amazing!!! loved everything about this book, it was written so beautifully
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a well-written, interesting read This book weaves fact beautifully. Surprising, for me, was my fascination with the architects and the world's fair story more so than the Holmes story. I bought it predominately for Holmes, but the other tale drew me in even more.
Date published: 2017-08-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insane I had read about the cruel tactics of H.H. Holmes a while back and was curious to learn more as I discovered there was a book surrounding the events. I really loved the parallelism of both stories and even had some 'a-ha' moments when part of the history was intriguing or familiar. At some points, there was far too much talk about architecture but overall, it was hard to put down.
Date published: 2017-08-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Love the mixture of stories in it.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great Inspirational and delightful.Inspirational and delightful.
Date published: 2017-06-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hard to get into #plumreview I found this book hard to get into, had some interesting parts here an there but a lot of boring parts as well.
Date published: 2017-06-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh Definitely not as intriguing as I thought it would be based on the description. It was actually kind of boring. A lot of description about building the fair which would have been more interesting if I had expected that going in, or if it were described as a book about the fair. I was expecting far more of a true crime story and less of a troubleshooting how to build a world fair story. So, yeah...meh.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great great story but the parts about the fair dragged some times
Date published: 2017-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great!! Amazing that they were able to track this guy down. He was all over the place when electricity was still being figured out!
Date published: 2017-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal HH Holmes isn't as talked about, but I thought his story was the craziest. This book is what I was waiting for, to give light to the subject.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Devil in the White City This is far from a thriller, most of it isn't about the serial killer it references it's about the actual far. Thus, slightly misleading but a good read if you can stand reading about mundane details. And about much about gardening.
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Fast paced and a thriller that keeps you engaged from the opening until the cnclusion
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic read This is the only book I have ever re-read. I couldn't put it down. A must for any history buff or a fan of the macabre.
Date published: 2017-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating! When I bought this book I thought it would be all about H. H. Holmes and his murder castle. However, Erik Larson incorporated the history of Chicago's World Fair into the story of H. H. Holmes and it was so good! It felt like reading a novel but everything was fact and I found it such an interesting read and would definitely recommend this book.
Date published: 2017-02-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Boring I found this book to be way too uninteresting. It might be because it is not what I am usually interested in but I just could not get into the tedious biographical elements of the owners of the world's fair. Well written but not for me.
Date published: 2016-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tremendously well done This is the second book of Larson's I have read and it will not be the last. The Devil in the White City takes you back to the incredible time just before the Chicago Worlds fair and illustrates the heroic effort of one city to bring Chicago to the world. On the other hand, we are witness to the seedy and overlooked underbelly of a rapidly expanding and evolving city that has more unsolved crimes and murders every day leading up to the fair...
Date published: 2016-12-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Caution: This Book is NOT a Thriller I read this book with an interest in "America's First Serial Killer". If you are intrigued by the same, skip this one. Only a small fraction is dedicated to looking at the murders of Holmes. In the end, the connection between his story and the fair is weak at best. This book, however, would be fantastic for someone interested in architecture, design, and innovation. The drama of "murder" and "madness" feels little more than a footnote to the expansive detail regarding the planning and execution of the fair, which is disappointing if you're seeking out a thrilling read, but a bonus if you're expecting a unique perspective regarding building city design.
Date published: 2016-12-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slow The best part about this book for me was the historical context and the interesting insights into the World's Fair. I found the culture of the city at the time in the story to be very engaging and well crafted. Unfortunately, for a thriller, I found it less than thrilling and I felt that it really crawled along at certain times without service to the plot. I can see how it might ignite the imagination with its historical context, it certainly did for me, but thats about it. Good to read on the plane if you're an insomniac and are opposed to taking sleeping pills, this should do the trick.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good if You Like the History This is a very interesting book from a historical standpoint. It is more about the construction of the Chicago World's Fair more than it is about H.H. Holmes. It certainly does discuss the serial killer a great deal, but if you're not interested in the fair and its construction than you may find yourself bored. An interesting fact is that all dialogue spoken in the book was actually said by the characters in real life, taken from historical documents. While this can make the dialogue seem stilted in parts, it gives a grounding to the book, as you know that everything that the characters say was actually said 100+ years ago.
Date published: 2016-12-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Devil in the White City Erik Larson did very well with all of his research however I found this book quite difficult to get through. I felt a lot of time was spent on Daniel Burnham's struggles with manifesting his vision of the fair where time spent on H.H. Holmes just flew by (could be that I was more interested in the true crime aspect more to be honest). All in all I'm glad to have read the book as it great to read about the history of Chicago. Unfortunately due to his writing style, it is doubtful that I will read another Erik Larson book.
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Larson at his best I love Larson's writing style. Very informative, great use of primary resources, but his writing doesn't make me feel like I'm reading a textbook. A joy to read.
Date published: 2016-11-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I Wasn't Feeling the Hype Being a card-carrying member of a book club can be a treacherous commitment. I'm currently part of two book clubs/reading groups and some of the novels have taken me to the heights of literature, while others have been gruelling treks through the bowels of literature (Thomas Pynchon's novels have found their way into both categories). You run serious risk in a book club: you put hours of valuable reading time into someone else's hands and hope that they are gentle with you. Of course, the reward of a great book chosen by a friend, that you would have never discovered on your own, can delight and inspire great discussion. My bookclub operates like this: three books are suggested and the members vote for the book they'd be most likely to read. Luckily, my bookclub chose to read The Devil in the White City for our most recent read, which was due in no small part to the forthcoming adaptation by Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio slated to star as the horrific Dr. H. H. Holmes. This was in all ways a winner for me: the book had been on my TBR list for ages and reading a book before the movie arrives affords a sort of hipster-nonchalance in the months leading up to a film's release. But there was another issue with the book club. Nobody else read the book. Now, to be fair, a lot of people started to read it, and there were even some halfhearted commitments to finishing the book but, a lot of people found the book to be pretty boring 100-pages in. Rather that wanting to scold my fellow members, I sat with 100 pages left and, unfortunately I had to agree. I also feel that this whole review, which has become a bit of a pontification on book clubs, should be prefaced with the fact that I usually don't read these types of books. My nonfiction reading tends to be relegated to science, medicine, memoirs, with the occasional foray into popular reads (e.g. Freakonomics). History is not usually my go-to read. With that said, I am not immune to a good yarn, and that's exactly what Larson is delivering here: history told with an eye for narrative. In discussion with one of the members who had made it through just under half of the book, I made the comment that the book alternated between periods of excitement and tedium. The World's Fair in Chicago bit was really just a hurdle for me as I wanted to get back to the supremely unnerving and palpably creepy tale of Holmes' murders. As the book wore on, I began to appreciate Burnham's quest to become the best architect of his time, but the descriptions of practicalities surrounding the building of the fair itself didn't do much for me. In fairness, this is a matter of personal taste. Others might revel in the materials used to erect the court of honour, or the difficulties in working in soil that was notoriously mercurial. What I did enjoy from these sections were the stories of the people themselves: Burnham and Olmstead's personal struggles overshadowed the fair in my mind. I also loved to read about a time with which I was relatively unfamiliar. The fierce patriotic pride exhibited by the citizens of Chicago in the book seem so foreign by today's standards, and it was pretty neat when the origins of modern products or amenities were unveiled (Pabst Blue Ribbon drinkers, take note). Truly, where the book shone for me were the chapters that dealt with Holmes' cruel, cold, and monstrous activities. Larson exhibits just enough restraint in the book's half that horrors are largely implied, and left to the reader's imagination. This makes for a horrifying and gripping read towards the end of the book, Cruelty Revealed, in which a detective follows a trail of misery left in Holmes' wake. All in all, this is a book I'm not sorry I read. I enjoyed parts of both narratives, and it is impossible not to praise both Larson's painstaking research and his narrative approach to nonfiction. I was expecting to enjoy the book a lot more than I did, but I was able to appreciate if not love what Larson has done with this book. It was a smart thematic choice to set two diametrically opposed men (who never meet) against each other in the book's narrative. Both represent the birth of modern America through similarities with european counterparts, it just happens that one sought to achieve greatness for himself and his country, while the other sought to sow pain and suffering for his own entertainment.
Date published: 2016-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The seedy history of Chicago I love Chicago and lived there for a time. This books gives a wonderfully awful picture of the city and the sort of people involved in the World's Exposition Fair.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible Story This novel was breathtaking. It was extremely well written and rich with culture and facts. I enjoyed each and every chapter and have recommended it to a number of people.
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it History written like a story. It was such an engaging read and so detailed that I forgot I was reading a history novel
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't Put It Down So dense with information, it's crazy how much research went into this book. You'll be taking in a lot of information, but it never feels boring or confusing. Holmes is despicable and you'll be astounded by how long he was able to keep his murdering enterprise alive.
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read This is the first Larson book for me I now own all of them.
Date published: 2016-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome read I spent a summer in Chicago and this was an excellent book to read while exploring the city. It gives a historical account of significant city-shaping events as well as the culture of Chicago at the time. It was well written, entertaining, and informative.
Date published: 2016-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The devil in the white city Very well written and researched. Even pace of informaton and wonderful style of story telling. This is why i enjoy reading.
Date published: 2014-12-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating and terrifying Fascinating look at how opulence and technological advancements blind us to our most horrific capabilities.
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating read I have read Larson's book twice. Each time I am amazed at how he grabs me in the first chapter and I cannot put the book down until I am done. It is a fascinating epic history.
Date published: 2013-09-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not as exciting as the cover made it sound The Devil in the White City has the right formula to be a book I’d love. Erik Larson paints a historical account of the construction of the 1893 Chicago World Fair, as the backdrop for the story of the first documented American serial killer. As a huge history nerd – especially American history – this book jumped off the shelf at me. The book is centred around two characters: Daniel Burnham, who designed the Chicago World Fair as well as famous buildings such as Washington’s Union Station and the Flatiron building in New York City; and H.H. Holmes who confessed to 27 murders, but is thought to have killed closer to 200. Larson obviously did his research on both the 1893 fair and Holmes’ murders as he spares no detail covering both events. This bestseller is non-fiction but it reads like a novel, which is good because it keeps you intrigued. But it does hit a lot of slow patches that tend to drag on. Larson goes into a lot of specifics about how Chicago won the rights to have the fair and the 2.5 years of construction that followed. It was very interesting at parts, but there were times where he would spend pages describing arguments between the architects and the committee in place to get the fair up and running…yawn. He goes into great detail about the great deal of stress and little time available to get the fair done ‘right’ and ready by opening day, but his exhaustive account bordered on overkill. Speaking of overkill, the story of serial killer H.H. Holmes was more entertaining than the lengthy scene-setting. Noticeably, Larson continuously repeats that Holmes’ demeanour and bright blue eyes put people at ease. I understand that the author is trying to cement the point that Holmes had a way of winning people over, but it was unnecessary to even mention this within the last few chapters of the book when it had already been well-established. Holmes’ deceit and ability to keep people unsuspicious of him is interesting. There was also a minor subplot involving one Patrick Eugene Prendergast who is famous for assassinating the Chicago mayor Carter Harrison at the fair’s end, and being the first murder case of lawyer Clarence Darrow. These small insights into Prendergast were out of place in the story as it seemed like Larson remembered every now and then and so he would insert a small chapter on him. On the whole, the stories were interesting but were not nearly as entwined as the book cover made them out to be. The events coincided with each other only in the sense that they ran concurrently. Holmes wasn’t killing people because of the fair but because he was a deranged man who enjoyed killing – and mostly women. I enjoyed some parts of the book, but overall I found it difficult to gather enthusiasm to keep picking it up for fear of more slow-moving chapters.
Date published: 2013-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great way to read history. Well written. Enjoyable read. Horrific character. But history, about what man is capable of.
Date published: 2013-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nonfiction page turner While the wonders of the 1893 Columbia Exposition were amazing the crowds, two other extraordinary characters were bringing impending doom to the White City. Both were murderers, one on a far more colossal scale, and both were, in the parlance of the day, mad. Just how mad was not to be discovered until into the 20th century when madness could be explained. And even the visionary of the fair, David Burnham couldn't stop calamity from entering his perfect picture of America at the critical moment when he wanted acclaim and closure to what his last success. Engaging to the last, this chronicle of another time is as wonderfully detailed as you would expect if you could go back in time.
Date published: 2013-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great book Hooks the reader from the first chapter. Descriptions of the fair make one feel as if they have been there. An excellent non-fiction book. More about the capture of Holmes and his attempts to build a new castle in ft worth would have been nice but Larson made me go to wiki for more info about Holmes. All and all an excellent read.
Date published: 2013-05-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Reads Like a Novel! Another gem by Erik Larson that merits adaptation to a miniseries or movie. Loved the fluidity of the chapters and how they interlaced the lives of a noble architect and a serial killer within the backdrop of the 1893 World's Fair. Amazing how the Fair transformed American cities, consumer products etc...Not to be missed.
Date published: 2013-04-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Devil in the White City A brutal picture of the world of Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century.
Date published: 2013-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Detail! Mystery meets History. This story is packed with historical gems about Chicago in 1893 and the construction of the World's Fair . As the city prepares to take the world by storm, a killer is also making his mark. Very good read.
Date published: 2012-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must Read I had no knowledge of the 1893 fair and all the innovations that it gave the world... and to think that there was this serial killer using it as a farming ground for victims... WOW. Holmes/Mudget blows Jack the Ripper out of the water, and I'd never heard of him until now. This is a must read!
Date published: 2009-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mesmerizing! For three days I found myself engrossed in Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City” – a real life tale about architecture and murder in 1890’s Chicago. The great thing about this non-fiction book is that Larson perused his research materials and documentations by interweaving facts into a story so compelling that you find it almost impossible to put down (it reminds me so much of Capote’s “In Cold Blood”). The book’s main characters are Daniel Burnham, the chief architect of the White City (Chicago’s World Fair), and H.H. Holmes, the sociopath killer who preyed on women coming to see the fair. Although the two men never met, their stories work so well together and their contrast – beauty and evil - makes this book very well written. The fact that it is also informative is an added bonus, and lets not forget the cast of characters – Buffalo Bill, Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. Astor, just to name a few. I have to admit however that if it wasn't for the murder story, the book wouldn't be as intriguing and enjoyable.
Date published: 2009-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! This book was wonderfully written about such an amazing event in history. I heard about this book before my recent vacation to Chicago and made sure I picked up a copy while I was there. I could not put it down! I loved reading how interconnected all the events and people were. I could visualize everything like a movie. It was also especially thrilling for me since I was just in Chicago!
Date published: 2008-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You won't believe it's a true story! This is really two stories in one: it is partially about the building of the "White City" for the World's Fair which is a fascinating story involving fires (the White City was mostly made of wood), architectural feats of impossibility, and fights across. different levels of bureaucracy. At the same time, a serial killer is using the convergence of people on Chicago for the World's Fair to find multiple victims whom he lures and then murders in shockingly horrific ways. All of this sounds like the book is fiction, however it is actually based on real events. And, while it sounds like I've given away the whole book, trust me this is a fantastic book. If you enjoy history, mysteries, suspense or Americana you will enjoy The Devil in the White City
Date published: 2008-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nail-Bitingly Good Storytelling 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.
Date published: 2007-09-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fantastic! Erik Larson has done an incredible amount of research to depict the history of the Chicago World Fair and what an impact it had on architecture, society and commerce at-large. Larson carefully characterizes the good intentions and dedication of the team of architects who diligently worked in creating the memorable monument. He then contrasts the inspiring team with a portrait of a doctor – a serial killer – who, unlike the architects, saw the Fair as a means to attract his victims. "The Devil in the White City" builds slowly but becomes hard to put down as both the Fair, and the doctor’s crimes progress rapidly. Larson weaves the black and white, dark and light, in a tight narrative with special attention to historical facts that must have, at one point, left him in the same awe and disbelief he expresses to his reader. Truly, a great book.
Date published: 2006-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal! With its sprawling story and cast of famous historical figures, "The Devil In The White City" is reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow's turn-of-the-century novel "Ragtime" -- but "Devil" is in many ways better than Doctorow's masterpiece because the events it describes are true! A spellbinding account of how high -- and low -- the human species can go.
Date published: 2006-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lizzy Absolutely fascinating...Everyone I have recommended Devil in the White City to has throughly enjoyed it.
Date published: 2005-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing history This book is great for people who love to get a sense of an era. The focus seems to be primarily on the 1893 World's Fair with a side drama of serial murder. I loved how the author contrasted the fair and the murderer down the street. While these two elements were in contrast, the link between them is rock solid. I was surprised by the link to Toronto though. It is scary that this isn't far removed from today's headlines.
Date published: 2003-06-23

Read from the Book

The Black CityHow easy it was to disappear:A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Many of these trains brought single young women who had never even seen a city but now hoped to make one of the biggest and toughest their home. Jane Addams, the urban reformer who founded Chicago's Hull House, wrote, "Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon the city streets and to work under alien roofs." The women sought work as typewriters, stenographers, seamstresses, and weavers. The men who hired them were for the most part moral citizens intent on efficiency and profit. But not always. On March 30, 1890, an officer of the First National Bank placed a warning in the help-wanted section of the Chicago Tribune, to inform female stenographers of "our growing conviction that no thoroughly honorable business-man who is this side of dotage ever advertises for a lady stenographer who is a blonde, is good-looking, is quite alone in the city, or will transmit her photograph. All such advertisements upon their face bear the marks of vulgarity, nor do we regard it safe for any lady to answer such unseemly utterances."The women walked to work on streets that angled past bars, gambling houses, and bordellos. Vice thrived, with official indulgence. "The parlors and bedrooms in which honest folk lived were (as now) rather dull places," wrote Ben Hecht, late in his life, trying to explain this persistent trait of old Chicago. "It was pleasant, in a way, to know that outside their windows, the devil was still capering in a flare of brimstone." In an analogy that would prove all too apt, Max Weber likened the city to "a human being with his skin removed."Anonymous death came early and often. Each of the thousand trains that entered and left the city did so at grade level. You could step from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. Every day on average two people were destroyed at the city's rail crossings. Their injuries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads. There were other hazards. Streetcars fell from drawbridges. Horses bolted and dragged carriages into crowds. Fires took a dozen lives a day. In describing the fire dead, the term the newspapers most liked to use was "roasted." There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. And there was murder. In the time of the fair the rate at which men and women killed each other rose sharply throughout the nation but especially in Chicago, where police found themselves without the manpower or expertise to manage the volume. In the first six months of 1892 the city experienced nearly eight hundred homicides. Four a day. Most were prosaic, arising from robbery, argument, or sexual jealousy. Men shot women, women shot men, and children shot each other by accident. But all this could be understood. Nothing like the Whitechapel killings had occurred. Jack the Ripper's five-murder spree in 1888 had defied explanation and captivated readers throughout America, who believed such a thing could not happen in their own hometowns.But things were changing. Everywhere one looked the boundary between the moral and the wicked seemed to be degrading. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued in favor of divorce. Clarence Darrow advocated free love. A young woman named Borden killed her parents.And in Chicago a young handsome doctor stepped from a train, his surgical valise in hand. He entered a world of clamor, smoke, and steam, refulgent with the scents of murdered cattle and pigs. He found it to his liking.The letters came later, from the Cigrands, Williamses, Smythes, and untold others, addressed to that strange gloomy castle at Sixty-third and Wallace, pleading for the whereabouts of daughters and daughters' children.It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root.This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.

Bookclub Guide

US1) In the note “Evils Imminent,” Erik Larson writes “Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow” [xi]. What does the book reveal about “the ineluctable conflict between good and evil”? What is the essential difference between men like Daniel Burnham and Henry H. Holmes? Are they alike in any way?2) At the end of The Devil in the White City, in Notes and Sources, Larson writes “The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city’s willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor, a concept so removed from the modern psyche that two wise readers of early drafts of this book wondered why Chicago was so avid to win the world’s fair in the first place” [p. 393]. What motives, in addition to “civic honor,” drove Chicago to build the Fair? In what ways might the desire to “out-Eiffel Eiffel” and to show New York that Chicago was more than a meat-packing backwater be seen as problematic?3) The White City is repeatedly referred to as a dream. The young poet Edgar Lee Masters called the Court of Honor “an inexhaustible dream of beauty” [p. 252]; Dora Root wrote “I think I should never willingly cease drifting in that dreamland” [p. 253]; Theodore Dreiser said he had been swept “into a dream from which I did not recover for months” [p. 306]; and columnist Teresa Dean found it “cruel . . . to let us dream and drift through heaven for six months, and then to take it out of our lives” [p. 335]. What accounts for the dreamlike quality of the White City? What are the positive and negative aspects of this dream?4) In what ways does the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 change America? What lasting inventions and ideas did it introduce into American culture? What important figures were critically influenced by the Fair?5) At the end of the book, Larson suggests that “Exactly what motivated Holmes may never be known” [p. 395]. What possible motives are exposed in The Devil in the White City? Why is it important to try to understand the motives of a person like Holmes?6) After the Fair ended, Ray Stannard Baker noted “What a human downfall after the magnificence and prodigality of the World’s Fair which has so recently closed its doors! Heights of splendor, pride, exaltation in one month: depths of wretchedness, suffering, hunger, cold, in the next” [p. 334]. What is the relationship between the opulence and grandeur of the Fair and the poverty and degradation that surrounded it? In what ways does the Fair bring into focus the extreme contrasts of the Gilded Age? What narrative techniques does Larson use to create suspense in the book? How does he end sections and chapters of the book in a manner that makes’ the reader anxious to find out what happens next?7) Larson writes, “The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck me as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions” [p. 393]. What such insights does the book offer? What more recent stories of pride, ambition, and evil parallel those described in The Devil in the White City?8) What does The Devil in the White City add to our knowledge about Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham? What are the most admirable traits of these two men? What are their most important aesthetic principles?9) In his speech before his wheel took on its first passengers, George Ferris “happily assured the audience that the man condemned for having ‘wheels in his head’ had gotten them out of his head and into the heart of the Midway Plaisance” [p. 279]. In what way is the entire Fair an example of the power of human ingenuity, of the ability to realize the dreams of imagination?10) How was Holmes able to exert such power over his victims? What weaknesses did he prey upon? Why wasn’t he caught earlier? In what ways does his story “illustrate the end of the century” [p. 370] as the Chicago Times-Herald wrote?11) What satisfaction can be derived from a nonfiction book like The Devil in the White City that cannot be found in novels? In what ways is the book like a novel?12) In describing the collapse of the roof of Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building, Larson writes “In a great blur of snow and silvery glass the building’s roof—that marvel of late nineteenth-century hubris, enclosing the greatest volume of unobstructed space in history—collapsed to the floor below” [p. 196–97]. Was the entire Fair, in its extravagant size and cost, an exhibition of arrogance? Do such creative acts automatically engender a darker, destructive parallel? Can Holmes be seen as the natural darker side of the Fair’s glory?13) What is the total picture of late nineteenth-century America that emerges from The Devil in the White City? How is that time both like and unlike contemporary America? What are the most significant differences? In what ways does that time mirror the present?

From Our Editors

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.

Editorial Reviews

“Engrossing . . . exceedingly well documented . . . utterly fascinating.” — Chicago Tribune “A dynamic, enveloping book. . . . 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 "So good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already." — Esquire “Another successful exploration of American history. . . . Larson skillfully balances the grisly details with the far-reaching implications of the World’s Fair.” — USA Today “As absorbing a piece of popular history as one will ever hope to find.” — San Francisco Chronicle “Paints a dazzling picture of the Gilded Age and prefigure the American century to come.” — Entertainment Weekly “A wonderfully unexpected book. . . Larson is a historian . . . with a novelist’s soul.” — Chicago Sun-Times