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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America Paperback – February 10, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Yet beneath the teeming activity and a short distance away from the gleaming white Pleasure Palaces of the Fair, there stood a building of a different sort entirely, inhabited by one of the most vicious, truly evil creatures the young nation ever produced. Larson does an adequate, but not great job of telling the darker story surrounding H H Holmes, the mesmeric Svengali whose brilliant blue eyes and engaging charm seduced at least a score (one estimate was up to 200, which the author disputes) unfortunate women. Unlike Jack the Ripper, to whom he was later likened, he didn't limit himself to female victims. Business partners who had outworn their usefulness and several children were amongst his prey, as well. He just had a penchant for murder.Read more ›
Daniel Hudson Burnham, architect and overseer of the fair, builds the White City itself, while Henry H. Holmes is the titular devil, a charismatic young doctor with blood-curdling obsessions. The British of the period may have dealt with Jack the Ripper, but our ever-expanding country weaned its own monster, whose house of horrors stood in the shadows of the great architectural triumphs of the Fair.
This compelling book moves with the relentlessness of the greatest novels of our time. The supporting cast includes such luminaries as Edison, Archduke Ferdinand, Buffalo Bill, and Susan B. Anthony; the ill-fated Titanic even makes an appearance in the books opening pages.
Larson's evocative prose fully engulfs the viewer in the period, and the dark and dreadful scenes with Henry H. Holmes are given welcome respite by the tales of Burnham's amazing accomplishment. The enjoyment of this stunning work is only heightened by the knowledge that the story is true.
The book is structured as a dual biography of Daniel Hudson Burnham, the steadfast architecht who was the prime mover in making the World's Fair an astounding succes; and of Dr. H.H. Holmes, the diabolical psychopath who operated his own killing chamber in a hotel he built not far from the fairgrounds. The two men never met, nor did they have any connection other than their contemporary existance, but weaving their stories together was a brilliant choice by Larson.
Larson provies plenty of colorful backdrop for his main story, vividly describing harsh life in 19th Century Chicago; the development of the first skyscrapers, the Charles Dickens-like ambiance of the streets and the colorful personalities that made it go. He also describes the amazing and lasting impact the Fair had upon America, the The Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack and Shredded Wheat being but a few of the things that debuted there. And, of course, he graphically describes the Holmes murders and the investigation that finally brought him to justice. Larson is a diligent researcher in addition to being an excellent storyteller, and that's what makes this book so special.
Overall, an outstanding work of narrative history that is like to be high on most reviewer's lists of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2003.
The reader also comes to learn a good deal about the city of Chicago at that time -- how it so desperately wanted to refine its image from that of a grimy city known primarily as a hog-slaughterer into a cultural oasis and how it self-consciously but determidly sought world-class status, competing with New York and Paris to make the Big Time.
The enormous success of the White City was due in large part to that gutsy determination and much hard work. And this book explains that very well. At the same time, it really piqued my interest to the extent that I have done some additional research into this World's Fair.
Larson parallels Burnham's story with that of Herman Mudgett, alias Dr. H.H. Holmes, the first notorious serial killer in the United States. Holmes, a charming, fast-talking and handsome con artist, was able to swindle, steal and lie his way into and out of many schemes that a less clever person could have never even imagined, much less succeeded at. He was also a cold-blooded killer who had no qualms about killing women and children as well as men. He ran a hotel and apartments in Chicago during the Fair and attracted tenants and victims there with the Fair's help. Holmes' story is chilling but also fascinating. Again, he is someone I'd like to know more about.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
to much about the exposition, boring details which may be interesting for construction engineers. Could be more about the "devil" all along, but of course it would perhaps... Read morePublished 1 hour ago by Amazon Customer
A fascinating story detailing history that I knew nothing about. Very well written, this reads more like a novel than historical fact. Highly recommended,Published 15 hours ago by liz
Brings history to life, intertwining multiple stories. This book is even more enjoyable for anyone who has lived in or visited Chicago.Published 18 hours ago by j
The audio of this book places the listener in a theater watching the film unfold.Absolutely one of the most intriguing novels in the making of American history.Published 1 day ago by Ted Rink
This book is really two separate stories. The most important and intriguing story is the account of the idea for, the planning and building of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago,... Read morePublished 1 day ago by Peggy McCauley
Extensive recounting of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago including a wonderfully in-depth review of the Fair's architecture and construction accompanied by a side story of great... Read morePublished 1 day ago by Jason M. Fedota
A fascinating book and an easy read. Chapter by chapter, in simple chronological order, the author juxtaposes preparations for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with the doings of one... Read morePublished 1 day ago by James W. Fonseca
The first half of the book drags, though the second is more interesting. The story meanders about and I was never quite drawn into the book as I'd expected based on the high... Read morePublished 2 days ago by Elle M
historically amazing...the daily items we us even today that started in 1893.........The devil was just that and would, I hope, never happen today. Read morePublished 2 days ago by lefty