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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America Paperback – Feb 10 2004


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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America + In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin + Thunderstruck
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (Feb. 10 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780375725609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725609
  • ASIN: 0375725601
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.3 x 20.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (270 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #8,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David on Nov. 14 2006
Format: Paperback
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By V. Deleary on Sept. 8 2005
Format: Paperback
Who knew Chicago isn't called The Windy City because of its strong gusts? Who knew anything about the Chicago World's Fair, or the murderous doctor who plagued the fairgoers? And, finally, who knew reading about a painfully slow architectural process could be so riveting? Larson's nonfiction reads like a novel, leading the reader through the carcass-ridden streets of 19th century Chicago right up to its linen-lined parlours of prestige. A tale of psychopathic darkness, and a tale of heroic intellectual success; The Devil in the White City is an enriching experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Shemogue on Jan. 21 2007
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
Erik Larson's juxtaposition of the development of the Chicago "Columbian Exposition" and the capture of a prolfic serial murderer who benefitted from the fair makes for an exciting read. It's hard to believe how the fair was conceived and funded, and how it was so quickly put together, despite warring architects, the depression, and various misfortunes. Imagine these days being able to suddenly increase a workforce 4-fold, reducing it just as quickly. Imagine constructing a whole city in a few fevered months, facing bad weather and supply shortages. And yet, they managed. The story is a cliffhanger and gives appreciation of what used to be the American spirit of can-do. The aftereffects of the fair and the glories thereof are visible throughout the country. Unfortunately, that spirit seems to be smaller now - there isn't that feeling of collaborating on something bigger, grander, more wonderful than anything ever done before...
The story of the serial killer is less gripping. I wanted more details about his life - instead it was more of he met this person, poof, they were no more. Of course, this is a factual book, and the author would be limited by what was proven, but the story would make a wonderful novel based on the facts and I felt myself longing for that. His eventual come-uppance is well-described and believable. In a way, Larson shows the good and the bad that can come from obsession.
Overall, the book was surprisingly gripping, and I am eager to go to Chicago again and see it with new eyes. I didn't know about this part of US History and I am amazed by it. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
In 1893, Chicago was gearing up for its shining moment on the international stage. The city had been selected to host the World's Fair, beating out New York and a number of other American contenders. A prominent local architect, Daniel Burnham, had taken the reins to organize and construct the massive project. He assembled a dream team of architects, landscapers, engineers, and other professionals to help pull the fair together. Certainly Chicago could outdo the Paris Fair, which had been a worldwide success years earlier.

Unfortunately for Burnham and his team, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Due to a lack of organization and bickering among the committees responsible for the fair, construction began far later than it should have. Partially completed buildings blew over and burned down. Union workers threatened strikes. One sideshow act showed up a year early, while another (which was believed to be made up of cannibals) killed the man sent to retrieve them and never showed up at all. And there was a monster on the loose. A man who used the chaos of Chicago at this time in history to conceal the murders of dozens of people - many of them young, single women. A man who constructed a building with stolen money, then used the building as a slaughterhouse to lure, kill, and dispose of his victims.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is a terrific book. It is nonfiction, but it reads like a novel. The real-life details of this story seem almost too bizarre to be true, yet this is one example of the old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction." The author, Erik Larson, even includes a lengthy section at the back where he documents his facts and explains his suppositions.
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