03 November 2008 ~ 0 Comments

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


It took me 2 weeks to get through this book. Mainly because it’s been crazy in my life lately, but also because this is, in some ways, a dry book. I was fascinated by the architecture and building practices of the time. The history of foundations in the Chicago area, the time/effort/labor it took, all that stuff interested me. BUT it did seem to drag on and on at times. The Holmes connection wasn’t really connected, it happened at the same time and I think the fair only allowed him to get away with it because of the large number of people and craziness that went down around there. I wish we had heard more of the Holmes story and a little less of the fair. They were inter-woven, yes, but I think they deserved equal time.

Having said that, it is a good book, a bit tedious, definitely not a beach read. It did make me go look up more information and pictures about the fair. I always knew we had one there back then, but I didn’t really know much about it. The whole project seems huge and frankly, amazing, for the time. Impressive.


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. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

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.

To find outmore about this book, go to http://www.DevilInTheWhiteCity.com

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