The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Book Summary

In The Devil in the White City, the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

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 a time of magic and majesty, 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.

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

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- For those who have problem finishing the book3 star

Nothing happens if you don’t read the chapters related to Daniel Burnham or Olmsted.

- Loved this book5 star

Can’t say enough good things about this book.

- Chicago’s Fair5 star

There 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.

- Best Book I’ve Ever Read5 star

This 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.

- Very Good4 star


- The World Fair with a Dash of Murder1 star

This 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.

- The devil in the white city2 star

Did not expect to be reading a full boring history novel, thought I was going to be reading a thriller

- Boring1 star

FORCED 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.

- An ok book2 star

I 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.

- One of the best books I’ve ever read5 star

I didn’t want it to end and hope it becomes a Netflix limited series.

- Surprisingly slow and boring!2 star

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.”

- Fave5 star

Loved this book

- Vegan Author cannot focus1 star

Allows 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.

- Devil in the white city5 star

One of my all time favorites! This book is captivating and thrilling to the end!

- A very thorough trip through old Chicago4 star

The 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.

- Not what I expected3 star

There 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.

- Page-turning non-fiction3 star

THE 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.

- Too little; too late3 star

The 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.

- Great book5 star

I 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.

- Monotonous to the Point of Painful2 star

I 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.

- Wow.5 star

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.

- Great Book!4 star

Interesting account of the Chicago Worlds Fair and one serial murderer who plagued the Chicago - Midwest area. Great read!

- The Devil in the White City5 star

What 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.

- The Devil in the White City5 star

A 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.

- Detailed & Insightful5 star

Very 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.

- More killing, less building2 star

Too much about the building of the fair. I was expecting gorier details of the killings.

- Compelling reading5 star

I 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.

- Mind-blowing5 star

I 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.

- The Devil in the White City5 star

A 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.

- Arresting Read5 star

Would've finished it in one night if I was smart enough.

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- Memorable......5 star

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

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- Simply incredible!5 star

This book is so enthralling I could not put it down! Having lived in chicago for the last four years, I feel I am the last person here who hasn't read the boom and I recommend it to anyone who is planning to move here. The way the author combined these two stories over each other makes for an informative yet shocking read.

- Riveting5 star

Another great book by author. Details of Worlds Fair and Ferris Wheel fascinating, while serial killer lurks.

- Engrossing book start finish!5 star

Read this book while traveling - couldnt put it down. It's an entertaining blend of history, drama and psychology - historical non-fiction at it's best!

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5 star

The Second Worlds Fair in Chicago followed Devil in the White City

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@ChuckWendig Finished All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by @bryngreenwood it was excellent. Started The Devil in th…

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@JSilverzweig The Devil in the White City

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@ChuckWendig Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

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@ChuckWendig The Devil in the White City as per recommendation from one of your other nightly question responses. 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

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@ChuckWendig The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

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Forty Years after Devil in the White City, Chicago did it again

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@Fandango “The Devil in the White City”

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The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson (F, 20s, Lincoln Park, Chicago)

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@ahrferrier @frenchhorn88 @bookofthemonth @penguinrandom Devil in the White City remains one of my favorite books. Incredible story.

5 star

@sternbergh Devil in the White City and The Alienist

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@dylanfremlin i also like it! in that case devil in the white city is very interesting and a fun (in a sense) read!

5 star

@dylanfremlin he’s historical non-fiction! the one that is most popular i think is devil in the white city and it’s…

5 star

3 of 5 stars to The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

5 star

@STORM1723451 Devil in the White City

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