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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, well written
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...
Published on Nov. 14 2006 by David

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3.0 out of 5 stars Murder amid the fun and glory of a World's Fair.
This is a story of two men who crossed paths at the World's Fair Exposition (the White City) in 1893, the city itself and the people concerned with the 'greatest event in the history of the U.S. since the Civil War.' Written to read like fiction, it is based on facts as seen through the eyes of researcher Erik Larson, a former writer for the Wall Street Journal, which...
Published on June 26 2004 by Betty Burks


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, well written, Nov. 14 2006
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (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
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book that Changed Nonfiction, Sept. 8 2005
By 
V. Deleary (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (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
5.0 out of 5 stars enthralling page turner; exceptionally well-written, Jan. 21 2007
By 
Shemogue (New Brunswick) - See all my reviews
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."
(Myrta was luckier than his other wives; at least 2 of them Holmes seduced, murdered, dissected & sold their articulated skeletons to medical schools.)

The book seems to get off to a slow start, mired in biographical details of a host of characters whose importance we do not yet know but this mirrors the slow start to the building of the Fair itself as months are spent in frustrating waits for committee meetings, approvals, budgets & minutiae before construction can begin. Despite setbacks, strikes and storms, the pace & the suspense pick up speed; events unfold faster & faster; thousands of workmen, tons of dirt, trainloads of materials and exhibits, hordes of visitors pass before our eyes as the book and the Fair hurtle to conclusion. In parallel, as more women go missing inquiries are begun; Holmes becomes more brazen and more careless; bodies found beneath a house in downtown Toronto are traced to Holmes; he is arrested, tried and hanged.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wondering why Washington came to look that way?, July 23 2009
By 
Dorothyanne Brown "Dabble" (Dartmouth, NS) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too, Aug. 28 2007
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (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.

The book's chapters alternate between the World's Fair and the exploits of serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes. I found myself enjoying both stories, as they ran parallel throughout the book. The Herculean task of putting together the fair in record time was fascinating, and the sociopathic actions of Dr. Holmes were chilling. It made for a brilliant contrast - just when the frustrations of the Fair seemed overwhelming, the book switched to Dr. Holmes as he lured yet another young woman into his web. And just when Dr. Holmes' evil seemed too much to bear, the chapter would end and the reader would be back at the World's Fair dealing with political back stabbing, instead of Holmes' more literal variety.

I rarely read nonfiction, but this book came highly recommended to me, so I gave it a try. I'm so glad I did, too. It offers a wonderful historical perspective on Chicago and the world near the close of the 19th century. For a Chicago-area native like me, its frequent mentions of famous local names, like Burnham and Adler and Marshall Field, that still grace street signs and the sides of buildings, were an added treat. Just a brief word of warning, though: it does contain some of the dreaded "adult themes." Some of Dr. Holmes' crimes are described - although not too graphically - and they might be upsetting for "younger or more sensitive" readers.

I strongly recommend THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY to anyone who enjoys an engrossing, well-written story, whether they normally read fiction or nonfiction. In particular, if readers have a book report in school, this book should be considered. It makes history come alive.

Reviewed by: K. Osborn Sullivan
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not short, but worthwhile, April 17 2005
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (Paperback)
I downloaded DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY and listened as I did some work in my studio. 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. Pleasant surprises are abound as little by little you get a sense of history based on the historical figures present and they are revealed very thoughtfully. I would like to write more although I don't want to spoil the tale. But I can say that a chilling picture is painted with this book, made even more so as it goes on in the background of the preparation and construction of the World's Fair. It's like looking into a crowded room and reading the mind of the one insane individual mingling with the rest of society--and put into great and interesting historical context. Must also recommend another fantastic book that I recently came across, purely by accident, titled BARK OF THE DOGWOOD. Great fun, horrific scenes, a plot that moves, and an ending that will keep you up at night trying to figure out just how the author did the whole thing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book was awesome!, March 20 2005
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (Paperback)
So why did I like this book so much? First off, the writing style is gripping. The author flips between the life of the serial killer in one chapter, and then in the next, the author is busy talking about the Chicago fair. This back and forth action between the two divergent locales kept me turning the page to find out what was going to happen next.
Another thing I really liked about this story is the fact that the author did a nice of building the suspense. For example as the fair is being built, there is a big debate as to what the main attraction will be. After many debates, someone steps forward with an idea, which is unanimously accepted by all of the fair planners. But what Erik Larson does so well, is that he keeps you hooked. He doesn't reveal what the big attraction is until three or four chapters later.
The combination of the real life struggle enountered by the city fair planners, and juxtaposed against the killings that were taking place at the same time, and the gruesomeness of those killings, made this a book that was very hard for me to put down.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in real life crime and/or historial novels.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Big book---worth the effort, Feb. 8 2005
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (Paperback)
Big books seem to be back in style. It is hard to choose an all time monster but H.H. Holmes(Mudgett) surely rates right up there. This book was so unique because it was like reading two books at the same time.The author balanced the shocking behavior of the calculating murderer Holmes with some of the worlds greatest builders.A life long city dweller or just one who visits a big city will be astonished to learn just what went into Chicago's Columbian Exposition and certainly will never look at high rise buildings,Landscapes,and public parks again without thinking about this book.Before this book the likes of Burnham,Root,Olmstead and other Architect's and builders were just names of streets to most of us. Not any more.Thanks to a great deal of research by the Author.This book has something for everyone and is both shocking and delightful.Jack The Ripper,Richard Speck,John Wayne Gacy,Ted Bundy all shocked and sickened us but H.H.Holmes was clearly a monster for the ages. Would also highly recommend another great book I came across called THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD-entertaining, frightening, laugh-out-loud funny, and well written.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The devil is in the details, July 23 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (Paperback)
Set against the backdrop of the Chicago World's Fair, this somewhat disjointed but stellar story came my way by accident--I found a copy left on the train and kept it. Perhaps this is the reason for my zealousness when it comes to touting this novel, for it truly was a great find. How refreshing it was/is to simply stumble across a great piece of writing. The story is about two main events heading towards collision. One is about the one man pulling out all stops to provide the best World's Fair to date, with limited time and a super long list of obstacles. The other is a serial killer who preys on young women. The killer sets himself up relatively close to the fair and looks forward to the influx of humanity that will come to the fair. You'll find the same great writing and suspense as in "The Bark of of the Dogwood" or perhaps "Water Music," both of which reminded me of this book, though the themes are entirely different--something about the flow of words and handling of the material. At any rate, if you're looking for a book to read this summer, this one packs a punch. Also have to recommend three other books to you: Fierce Invalids, Bark of the Dogwood, Stiff.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great rhythm back and forth between the stories of two men., July 7 2004
By 
William Franklin Jr. (Austin, Texas, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (Paperback)
A young serial killer and an accomplished architect; while they probably never met, they both contributed to the character of Chicago and the nation at the end of the 19th century. In the stories of both men, we can learn something about the spirit and potential of the United States in what some refer to as the first era of globalization.
Indeed, in reading the book, one almost begins rooting for Daniel Burnham and the other builders of the World's Colombian Exhibition. One wants them to prove the New York cynics wrong, including sometimes, as it were, themselves. One wants the committee to build something bigger and better than the World's Fair in Paris (that created the Eiffel Tower). One wants the Fair to break all the attendance records; one wants it to be profitable. One can only hope to know what it was like to come into contact with so many strange and entirely new gadgets, foods, cultures, and ideas, the best from around the world. One roots for the Fair to succeed and impress upon the world a sense of American "can-do."
To read about the challenges to the 1893 World's Fair, and how the (almost exclusively) men overcame them, is a joy to read.
The book bounces back and forth at a very nice pace between the World's Fair and a young and likeable doctor who killed many times over, using the Chicago Exhibition as a device to lure in his vulnerable female victims. H.H. Holmes, a man with many aliases, was able to charm his way to fortune while still in his 20s, ultimately using the fortune to swindle increasingly more people out of more money. He took great joy in control. He loved to exert control over others, and he took sick pleasure in the ultimate control--- taking of life. His actions were intricate and calculated, and he might have gotten away with it all had he not tried to perpetrate a simple insurance fraud.
Occasionally involving the simmering story of an impotent loser and would-be political assassin named Pendergrast, among other minor subplots (even the sinking Titanic), the book comes to life, exuding a sense of the chaotic pace of Chicago and the growing nation.
The Devil in the White City will keep you guessing, it will broaden your knowledge of American popular history, and it will inspire you to learn more about the gilded age. Highly recommended.
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