May 28, 2017

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - Review

Book details:
Paperback: 447 pages
Publisher: Vintage (February 10, 2004)
ISBN-13: 978-0375725609

About this book:
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, Nikola Tesla 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.

My thoughts:
This book caught my attention because it was about the Chicago's Worlds Fair of 1893. I have always wondered what it would be like to attend one of those fairs so thought this was a good way to learn more about it. Then I saw it was also about America's first recorded serial killer H.H. Holmes and I thought this may interesting as well. Even though this was a non-fiction book I thought parts of it read just like a novel. I guess I mean to say that it was not just all restated facts or dry reading like a report would be. While I enjoyed the book there were a few parts that were a little slow to me. Some of the descriptions of the politics behind the World's Fair were a little long for me, but it was not fault of the author. I just was not as interested in those parts. I did like all how the author told us of a number of things that we still have to day that were debuted at the fair: shredded wheat cereal, the Ferris wheel, juicy fruit gum as well as the famous people that were a part of creating the fair: Frank Lloyd Wright, Walt's Disney's father, and the man who built the Biltmore estate. It was also interesting to read about all the statistics from the fair, from the people that attended to the money earned. All the information about H.H. Holmes was very interesting to me. For example how he swindled so many people out of money, how he pulled off a number of scams as well as the horrible killings he did. The descriptions of these was not gruesome, just facts. I also liked how the author would go back and forth between the two stories he was writing about. The ending of the book was very fitting as the author tied up all the loose ends. I have other books by this author and am looking forward to reading them. 

Meet the author - Erik Larson:
Erik Larson is a writer, journalist and novelist. Nominated for a Pulitzer prize for investigative journalism on The Wall Street Journal, he has taught non-fiction writing at San Francisco State and Johns Hopkins.


  1. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed it. The politics got a bit dry, but I loved the information about the fair, what went into it, and H.H. Holmes.

    I read Dead Wake by the same author last summer and loved it. Have you read that one?

    1. I have not read Dead Wake yet but I do have it and intend on reading it.