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The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2003, 447 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2004, 464 pages

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There are currently 16 reader reviews for The Devil in the White City
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lilac (05/15/08)

Title well chosen
As a true crime fan, I picked this up initially as H.H. Holmes is billed as the first serial killer in the US. How could I resist this tease? But as I read, the killings became less important (not to belittle the awful lost of life) and the building of the fair took on a life of it's own. The fair became a character, more than a backdrop for this well told story. I was enthralled by the images and history Erik Larsen shared. This book was a jumping off point for interlibrary loan of many other books dealing with the fair itself. I loved the weaving of Holmes story and the fair. H. H.Holmes certainly was an evil man, handsome, smart, and charismatic like many serial killers. If I met him, I'm positive I would have liked him and that's what is truly scary.

If you can get your hands on the DVD H.H. Holmes: America's first serial killer / Waterfront Productions presents a John Borowski film ; producer, John Borowski ; writer, John Borowski ; director, John Borowski, it's worth a watch.

I had read Isaac's Storm (Larsen) before this for a book discussion in our library. We all agreed we liked the author's writing but didn't care about the people as much as we thought we should in Isaac's Storm. Thunderstruck is on my bookshelf waiting for my the right reading moment. Mr. Larsen is top-notch on my list.
Keri (01/24/05)

The Devil In The White City iworks on a number of levels. For the history buff, it sheds some light on an era that is eclipsed in history classes by the America of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the World Wars. Larson's descriptions of the technological and architectural legacies of the Chicago World's Fair alone might not compel the reader to embrace this book.

The author has added delightful human motivation. The colossal egos associated with the men who built "the dream" and, indeed, with the entire populace of Chicago (out to prove that Chicago can rival New York in sophistication and "out-Eiffel Eiffel") make this a wonderful anthropological study of East Coast VS. Midwest sensibility.

On top of that, Larson has thrown in a historical serial killer about whom, unbelievably enough, most of his readers have probably never heard.

Chapter by chapter, Larson weaves these threads beautifully so that the reader sees the connection between Chicago's preoccupation with the Fair and a madman allowed to literally "go to town" unnoticed for the Fair's duration.

"Devil" is a fabulous read and it's well-researched to boot.

joe alley (01/08/05)

a bit too much detail,especially concerning the fair. it became tedious reading.however since this was a book being read for discussion by a library 'reading club' i read it all!ja
JC (12/08/04)

Found this book to be very intriguing for the concurrent plots. A thriller-diller on one hand and a seemingly impossible tale of politics and human endeavor on the other. Introduced me to turn-of-century figures that still resonate today. History brought alive. Only disappointment - coming to the end.
Jack (10/28/04)

Some books just can't keep you going on. I found myself lost with the historical facts and the lack of dialogue.
Giny (10/21/04)

Larson's book is an excellent piece of non-fiction that has several literary qualities. I had to read this book for college credit, and I will admit, I wasn't crazy about it at first. I thought it would be a boring account of architecture in the late 19th century. But, Larson's talent with recreating murder scenes kept me intrigued. If you like books that tell two tales at once, you will enjoy Larson's book.
Rachel (10/14/04)

Best book I have EVER read!!!!!!!
Arnie Harris (02/24/04)


THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is an engrossing, entertaining and chilling work that, that unfortunately ultimately falls short of what presumably were the author, Erik Larson's ambitious aspirations.

More's the pity, because Larson certainly had at his disposal the requisite material for a book of Pulitzer caliber.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is the story of the building of the magnificent 1893 Chicago World's Fair --which came to be known as the "White City"-- and was both a showcase and harbinger of the native industry, ingenuity, and technology that would explosively transform the nation in the coming century.

Larson's tale of the architects and engineers whose vision and dynamic leadership resulted in the monumental accomplishment in the face of seemingly insuperable odds and obstacles is powerfully inspirational.

The "Devil"(in this case by no means a hyperbole), the malevolent presence casting his dark shadow on this achievement, is one Dr. H.H. Holmes, probably America's first serial killer. A figure that might have been the product of one of Poe's fevered dreams, Holmes was, by all accounts a charismatic, seductively charming handsome young man (a 19th century Ted Bundy), whose financial ambitions were suprpassed only by his cruel and merciless lust to snuff out the lives of those tourists(mostly women and children) he was able to lure into his "Mansion of Horrors", constructed close to the fair. Holmes was thought guilty of anywhere from at least 27 to as many as 200 murders,
all the while never letting his facade of charming and guileless gentleman slip.

To his credit, Larson deals with this monster in an effectively understated manner, like a literary Hitchcock, providing chilling and tantalizing glimpses and intimations of the deviltry Holmes was about. Wisely he often allows the reader to use his imagination to fill in the unfathomable horror of the man and his cruelty.

Ultimately, Larson fails is in bringing the two diametrically opposed elements of his story together in a meaningful way that might offer a valuable perspective and lesson about the coexistence of good and evil, and, perhaps, the meaning of "Progress", as America raced headlong and heedlessly toward its destiny in the 20th century.
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