The Devil in the White CityErik Larson

The Devil in the White City

4.5 star

Total 2,405 Ratings

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Book Summary

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.

The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson) Book Reviews

Great story-and it's true.Hard to put down!.Score: 5/5

Very GoodGreat.Score: 4/5

Surprisingly slow and boring!I thought it would be a murder mystery almost or at least fairly suspenseful. It is not! It’s incredibly SLOW and very boring. Unnecessarily long, he describes EVERY SINGLE DETAIL, including such stupidity of menu items! I has so many stories and other crap going on that it’s easy to loose track of what is even going on. Has barely anything to do with Holmes. It was way more about the fair. It’s ONLY redeeming factor is that it’s very well written. I’m shocked by the amount of people who “couldn’t put it down.”.Score: 2/5

It's like time travelExcellent book that made me feel like I was there. One of my favorites of all time. You won't be disappointed..Score: 5/5

More killing, less buildingToo much about the building of the fair. I was expecting gorier details of the killings..Score: 2/5

Didn't want to put it down!Excellent! Well written. Being from Chicago, I fund both the history of he Columbian exposition and the story of the serial killer to be enthralling. The intertwining of the two storylines was masterful and gave color to a great read..Score: 4/5

A great vacation read!Truth is often more interesting than fiction.Score: 5/5

One of the best books I’ve ever readI didn’t want it to end and hope it becomes a Netflix limited series..Score: 5/5

Mind-blowingI first chose this book two years ago for an AP English Language assignment, thinking it would be an easy read with minimal meanings; something that I could easily write an essay on. I was way in over my head. Of course I was intrigued by the book when I first picked it out, especially since it's based on actual historical events. Never did I expect it to be a hair-gripping thriller that got me glued to every page. The vivid imagery and detail is eye-opening. The characters engulf you into their stories and minds, making you feel every thought, moment, emotion, and sense as if they were your own. The story is gripping and striking, leaving you wanting more and more until there's nothing left.... And you read it all over again. I couldn't keep my eyes or my hands off this book. I definitely suggest this excelling, exciting, fascinating novel, especially to those of you who love to dive into a magical realistic realm - such a paradox! - or a historical-fictional read..Score: 5/5

Great Book!Interesting account of the Chicago Worlds Fair and one serial murderer who plagued the Chicago - Midwest area. Great read!.Score: 4/5

The World Fair with a Dash of MurderThis book spent more time discussing the world fair, it’s struggles, involved parties and everything that went into it vs Holmes and his murder house..Score: 1/5

Detailed & InsightfulVery well written. Terrific insight into events taking place before, during and after the Worlds Fair. Suspense and intrigue careful woven into the story. Highly recommend..Score: 5/5

DisappointedI bought this book thinking there would be much more time given to H. H. Holmes. This was not the case. I learned more about the Fair, and while it is fascinating, it is not what I signed up for. I also do not like Larson's style of writing. He kept alluding to the future murders, which I found to be unnecessary. We know there will be murder. There were punctuation issues that sometime made the book hard to read. I would not read this book again.Score: 2/5

Devil in the white cityOne of my all time favorites! This book is captivating and thrilling to the end!.Score: 5/5

Page-turning non-fictionTHE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is a page-turning narrative, made all the more compelling by the fact that is a work of non-fiction. While an engrossing read, I was frequently left wanting more. The prose is very mechanical—not particularly evocative, but easy and quick to read. The book focuses a whole lot more on the marvels of the 1983 World Fair than it does on its true crime tale, which is a pity. As fascinating as Burnham's story is and as curious as it is to lean about the Fair's tremendous impact in the final decade of the 19th century, HH Holmes is by far the most interesting figure, and he often wasn't featured as largely as I hoped he would. One thing is for certain, however—this will make a terrific film, especially in the hands of Scorsese and DiCaprio..Score: 3/5

Chicago’s FairThere was a lot more to the book than a story about Holmes. This may attract you to the book or not. I loved the story of the engineers and architects fighting out the Worlds Fair in Chicago. After reading this book, I went to Central Park and saw Olmsted in its current design. The desires of great men both good and evil was laid before you..Score: 5/5

The Devil in the White CityExcellent read! EAF.Score: 5/5

Not what I expectedThere is much more in the story about the World's Fair and architecture than about Holmes. Those parts dragged at times and it was hard to get through the book. Some of it was very interesting but not really my cup of tea. If you are looking for a murder mystery I would keep looking..Score: 3/5

Vegan Author cannot focusAllows his obvious vegan preferences to taint his story. Combine that with 5009 details about the world's Fair and what do ya got? The recycle bin. Read two chapters and deleted this forever..Score: 1/5

BoringFORCED myself to read at least 1/3 of the book since it came highly recommended. Couldn’t go past that without losing complete interest/pull my hair out from boredom. What a waste..Score: 1/5

Absolutely Engrossing!This book is entirely fascinating from start to finish. The extensive details can be a bit much, but that is what paints such a vivid picture of the worlds fair. Love it!.Score: 5/5

FaveLoved this book.Score: 5/5

The Devil in the White CityA non-fiction that reads like fiction. Suspenseful if you do not know the history of the worlds fair, or the serial murders that took place. I look forward to reading more by this author..Score: 5/5

A great bookCould not put it down.After reading I felt as if I had been to the expo! Highly recommend.Score: 5/5

The Devil in the White CityA great book with an abundence of information involving the World’s Fair all while keeping you wanting to read more about H.H. Holmes. Sometimes it got a little slow but overall it was a solid book that I would definetly recommend..Score: 5/5

Bad and disappointing.This book was long winded and ended up being a bitter disappointment. Zero character development, this book is bogged down in endless details about the fair that add nothing to the story, if there really is one. If you're aim is to read a dark tail about the mind of a murderer, this is not your book. I ended up leafing through tens of pages just to get to unsatisfying passages about HH Holmes. In the end, most of this book reads like a dry highschool textbook. Seriously, skip this one, your time is better spent elsewhere.....Score: 1/5

Monotonous to the Point of PainfulI was looking forward to this book, especially when I heard DiCaprio and Scorsese were trying to adapt it into a movie. The sample was good so I felt comfortable paying the 15$ to complete it. After the first few chapters however, it became really monotonous and just hard to keep focused on. I agree with the other reviews which state they were disappointed with how little the book had to do with Holmes. The alternating chapters between the story of the fair and Holmes' activities was a solid idea, but the chapters about the fair were usually 10x as long as the ones about Holmes. To make this book even remotely enjoyable that's the format that had to be taken because the story became so repetitious that 8 pages of Holmes was needed to stop me from reading altogether. "Oh, the fair grounds were huge and required a lot of work which seemed to NEVER get done. The plants didn't arrive, a storm hits and ruins a building, the workers go on strike, etc etc." Just when I was getting ready to close the book a chapter on Holmes would come up and regain my attention, but only slightly because that became RIDICULOUSLY monotonous as well. "Holmes was a charmer and ran up debts all over town but always avoided the law because he was so charming." It hardly even makes sense but you don't want to stop too long to think about what you're reading because you know you will come across basically the same passage and situation again in another 40 pages. Holmes gets another mistress that he bamboozles, then kills her, etc etc. More creditors come knocking, but oh! He does it again and charms his way out of it! Listen, I enjoy history and there is some interesting stories in this book, but wait for your friend who buys it to become bored with it and then borrow it from them. If you're looking for a book about Holmes, or even semi-related to Holmes, DO NOT BUY. That's another gripe I had. The title is Devil in the White City. About the same amount of time was spent on Holmes as the never ending illnesses that fell on Olmstead throughout the book..Score: 2/5

Never thought a worlds fair would keep me up at nite reading!!!Fantastic dramatic historical book! Story lines are parallel but not dependent on each other! Fascinating to think that the events are researched and true! You won’t be disappointed I promise!.Score: 5/5

History lesson and true crime all in oneReally amazing book with fascinating history of Chicago and the story of a serial killer all in one book. Very compelling read.Score: 5/5

Boring!!!!!I had to read this for English class and it is really bad. I fell asleep while reading it.Score: 1/5

For those who have problem finishing the bookNothing happens if you don’t read the chapters related to Daniel Burnham or Olmsted..Score: 3/5

Even If It Were Fiction It’d Be GoodI’ve never read a book that threads history together in a way that feels like a fictional thriller quite like this. This feels like a whole new genre. Couldn’t put it down..Score: 5/5

The devil in the white cityDid not expect to be reading a full boring history novel, thought I was going to be reading a thriller.Score: 2/5

Great bookGreat book with 2 stories!.Score: 4/5

A very thorough trip through old ChicagoThe writer put a large amount of work in to this book, and it really shows. Although I was hoping for more on Holmes (at least a fifty fifty split between him and the Worlds fair) I was not disappointed and learned quite a lot about the Worlds fair and the architects who made it happen. For a book about a man who we know almost nothing about, I agree with the writer's decisions when assuming what actions Holmes took in certain situations. Overall a very good read, a bit slow, but worth it..Score: 4/5

Amazing dual storiesI have read this over and over. I have recommended it numerous times. A true historical story. Filled with lots of details, which some may think boring. One story based on HH Holmes, another based on the construction and sights of the 1893 Expo, linked by lovely ladies visiting the Fair. This is an educational read. Those who like it, LOVE it..Score: 5/5

Best Book I’ve Ever ReadThis book is written so eloquently. Larson puts you in each scene with such elegance of imagery and language. This story is so enthralling. I’ve read it twice back to back..Score: 5/5

The Devil in the White CityWhat an interesting read. Almost like reading two books, but, at the same time relevant to one another. Gives you perspective as to what the city & life of Chicago was like in the late 1800s and the important developments & innovations that took place. Highly recommend it..Score: 5/5

Americas first serial killerRead this in hardcover. Fascinating!! Id read it and recommend it to anyone into psychology or crime!.Score: 5/5

Great bookI never thought I would see a book that intertwined architecture and serial killing as well as this book. It started a little slowly but by the end I couldn’t put it down..Score: 5/5

Loved this bookCan’t say enough good things about this book..Score: 5/5

An ok bookI enjoyed the book, but was very disappointed with how much they talked about the fair and not enough about Holmes at all. Even the section about him wasn’t interesting at all. The history part was neat learned some new things but all in all not worth the money I would recommend borrowing it..Score: 2/5

Compelling readingI would highly recommend it to a friend. Great read because both stories were thoroughly intriguing and both stories pulled you along. I personally enjoyed all the details. Very well-written..Score: 5/5

Very mediocreThis book had lots of good press, but is a very lame book..Score: 1/5

Arresting ReadWould've finished it in one night if I was smart enough..Score: 5/5

Too little; too lateThe history of the fair was interesting--I didn't know that the Ferris wheel was developed there, but I agree w/ others that there are too many details, such as the menus of some dinners. Then, the author wraps up the Holmes saga rather hurriedly and without development. Why did the search for the children become nationwide front page news? No idea. What made the police think there was reason to search? No real discussion. Just as in Thunderstruck, the author is too busy telling two tales that have the most tenuous connection..Score: 3/5

Wow.This is so much more than a book about a serial killer. It is, without question, the most intriguing historical retelling I have ever read..Score: 5/5

EntrancingThe 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..Score: 5/5

100 Words or LessI rarely read nonfiction – okay, this is the only NF book I’ve read in years. But it reads like a novel; all the more terrifying because it is history. The style, the real people involved, the grandiose plans and murderous intentions … it is intertwine with skill and talent. Much of what happened is fascinating, sort of like gawking at a car wreck. Yet it is also beautiful, especially the chapters of the world fair. Seems surreal at times, which makes the book that much more amazing..Score: 4/5

TerrificRead this, if only to gain a strong sense of the background of American architectural influences, some which are present today. Oh- and there is a serial killer in this story. Endlessly fascinating!.Score: 5/5

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Memorable......Titanic, Ferris wheel, Cracker Jack, Jack the much familiar history entwined within the lesser known history of the Chicago Fair. An intriguing read........Score: 5/5

American History + True CrimeIf you’re a true crime nerd and history buff, this is a great read. Make sure you have Google at hand because you will definitely want to look up all Easter eggs of names being drop throughout this novel..Score: 5/5

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