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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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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: 13.1 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (272 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #7,133 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau TOP 100 REVIEWER on April 18 2012
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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 backdrop for the story of the first documented American serial killer. As a huge history nerd – especially American history – this book jumped off the shelf at me.

The book is centred around two characters: Daniel Burnham, who designed the Chicago World Fair as well as famous buildings such as Washington’s Union Station and the Flatiron building in New York City; and H.H. Holmes who confessed to 27 murders, but is thought to have killed closer to 200. Larson obviously did his research on both the 1893 fair and Holmes’ murders as he spares no detail covering both events.

This bestseller is non-fiction but it reads like a novel, which is good because it keeps you intrigued. But it does hit a lot of slow patches that tend to drag on. Larson goes into a lot of specifics about how Chicago won the rights to have the fair and the 2.5 years of construction that followed. It was very interesting at parts, but there were times where he would spend pages describing arguments between the architects and the committee in place to get the fair up and running…yawn. He goes into great detail about the great deal of stress and little time available to get the fair done ‘right’ and ready by opening day, but his exhaustive account bordered on overkill.

Speaking of overkill, the story of serial killer H.H. Holmes was more entertaining than the lengthy scene-setting. Noticeably, Larson continuously repeats that Holmes’ demeanour and bright blue eyes put people at ease.
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