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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.
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 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 ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Either one of these plots may have been interesting on their own. But the author tries to tie them together as if they represented some cultural zeitgeist of late nineteenth... Read morePublished 2 hours ago by J. Dooley
As someone who enjoys historical books, this read like a novel. However, the story is true, even though parts seem beyond reality.Published 1 day ago by Edmond E.
The binding fell apart on the book within a few minutes of starting. Would like a refundPublished 2 days ago by jack o'connor
A little slow at times but it got interesting towards the end z z z z z z z zPublished 3 days ago by George Apostolopoulos
Thoroughly researched. This is how non-fiction should be written! Sometimes tough to jump back & forth between the two storylines though.Published 3 days ago by Joy Patton
I enjoyed it the first time and just read it again. Erik Larson is a very good writer. Lots of research went into this bookPublished 4 days ago by Vaun Healey