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The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America (Vintage)
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The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America (Vintage) [Kindle Edition]

Erik Larson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (266 customer reviews)

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Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are both revealed through Larson's skillful writing. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly

Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac's Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of the vast fair and Holmes's relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes's co-star, architect and fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile Durkheim's Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of "articulated" corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed. 6 b&w photos, 1 map.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, well written Nov. 14 2006
By David
What strikes me most about this book is the detailed research that went into the parallel story about the Chicago World's Fair and how it's woven around the story of the murders. Larson's book is a pure enjoyment--a historical journey into the history of Chicago, warts and all. The reader not only learns about Daniel Burnham's amazing feat pulling together the Columbia Exposition of 1893 and the ways it changed the nation, but he contrasts this event with America's first serial killer, ironically steps away from the fair. The reader is tugged from good to evil, from risk to murder, from heaven to hell. Enjoy the ride and thanks Mr. Larson for allowing us to take that ride!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In 1890 Chicago had a justly earned reputation for filth, squalor, crime and violence; its biggest tourist attractions were its vast stock yards and slaughterhouses. But that year, having just edged out Philadelphia as the second most populous city in the U.S., Chicagoans had the audacity to dream of being something greater than hog-butchers as they won the bid to host the 1893 World Exposition.
This book is about the struggle to realize that dream, the building of the "White City" on a barren tract of lakefront swampland. Interwoven with the main story is the darker one of the charming serial killer, Henry Holmes, who built his World's Fair Hotel just down the street & to which he lured uncounted numbers of young women.

The book is a fascinating page-turner, all the more remarkable for being true - I raced through it in a day & a half. But even more remarkable is Erik Larson's writing style; there were many instances where I slowed down just to savor his turn of phrase. Here are some examples:

"Every day he saw (women) stepping from trains and... hansom cabs, inevitably frowning at some piece of paper that was supposed to tell them where they belonged. The city's madams understood this and were known to meet inbound trains with promises of warmth and friendship, saving the important news for later."

"Homes adored Chicago... in particular how the smoke and din could envelop a woman and leave no hint that she had ever existed."

In a Minneapolis shop Holmes has just met Myrta whom he would later bigamously marry: "When he left the store that first day, as motes of dust filled the space he had left behind, her own life seemed drab beyond endurance. A clock ticked. Something had to change.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CHICAGO...CHICAGO...IT'S A WONDERFUL TOWN... April 18 2012
By Lawyeraau TOP 100 REVIEWER
This is an exceptionally well written, well-researched book about two events that were intertwined, the Chicago World's Fair and the crimes of a serial killer in late nineteenth century Chicago. The book is rife with period detail and highly descriptive passages that give the reader a taste of what living in Chicago was like at that time.

The book provides a fascinating look at the enormous work and planning that went into creating the Chicago World's Fair, making it into one that was truly remarkable for its time, given some of the problems that the architects had to overcome. It also provides a fascinating look into the lives of some of the key players involved in its creation.

Meanwhile, an enterprising and charismatic killer was also at work, his story being tied into that of the creation of the Chicago World's Fair itself. His story, however, is the weaker part of the book, as it lacks the detail that is evident in the other segment of the book. Still, it provides an interesting look into the life of a serial killer who seemed to go about his grisly business with impunity, as well as a look at crime, law enforcement, and the state of criminal justice in late nineteenth century Chicago.

The photographs that were included in the book are excellent and illustrative. The only problem is that there are not enough of them, as the few that are included simply make the reader desire more of them. Still, those with an appreciation of history will enjoy this work of non-fiction and look forward to reading more by this author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad July 9 2004
By A Customer
The book does a good treatment of the development of the World's Fair. It is really a biography of the architects that built it. The material on the killer is sketchy at best, and only serves to broaden interest in buyers, without adding much to the content.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a page turner March 20 2014
By Lynne Frappier TOP 500 REVIEWER
Erik Larson was able to weave both the story of the building of the White City and the evil that resided within it's reach. I loved how he was able to bring the characters back to life and flipped from each storyline so that neither one ever got to overwhelming or tedious.

Highly recommended read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Didn't want to put it down! Dec 31 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Although I was actually aware that the Chicago World's Fair had occurred, I had no idea, before this book, just what an undertaking it was. Mr. Larson has done a superb job of not only telling the tale of the gargantuan project itself, but of immersing the reader in the culture, economy and politics of the time. Interwoven with the shocking tale of a psychopathic serial killer, who went virtually unmolested for years, the book was irresistible to me.

I did think that the writing style was occasionally a bit awkward, but that did not deter at all from my enjoyment of the book. Can't wait to read another of Mr. Larson's historical treasures.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars So boring
Could not get into this book, so so so boring. Had to read it for a class, otherwise I wouldn't have wasted my money
Published 8 months ago by Cecily Bengert
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as exciting as the cover made it sound
The Devil in the White City has the right formula to be a book I’d love. Erik Larson paints a historical account of the construction of the 1893 Chicago World Fair, as the... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Stephanie Taylor-Baptiste
5.0 out of 5 stars The Devil in teh White City by Erik Larson
I found this book so stressful with the two story lines - the building of the 1893 World's Trade Fair in Chicago and the serial killer on the loose. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Christine Tucker
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely phenomenal
What a great story. Well-written and compelling, Larson puts together a tale of accomplishment and horror. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Craig McNaughton
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Book arrived within two weeks, in time for Christmas and was brand new. The story is excellent and gripping as well.
Published 17 months ago by Sandra Street
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the time to read
Erik Larson is a writer of history, who delves deeply into the facts and makes the story come alive. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Susan Ricketts
5.0 out of 5 stars Educational and full of Suspense
Excellent historical murder....and the intrigue of competing interests trying to get wireless communication into service. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Rod
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Seller!
Seller was very helpful - went above and beyond to ensure my shipping cost and delivery time were honoured. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2012 by JS
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful storytelling
Whether you've been to Chicago or not, you'll find this book captivating. It's fact-packed but written in such a wonderful, readable style that you have to remind yourself it's... Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2011 by Kadi Kaljuste
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of White City, not so much devil
The devil was H.H. Holmes, a serial killer, who designed a rooming house that provided gas outlets to kill guests in their rooms and an incinerator to dispose of their bodies. Read more
Published on Aug. 25 2011 by Len
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