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All booksHistoryThe Devil in the White City
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson

Quick take

At the turn of the 20th century, Chicago saw some of the most innovative minds—but not all were used for good.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Brainy



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. 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.

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2731 ratings
  • 49% Love
  • 38% Like
  • 10% Dislike
  • Gray, GA

    I’m a repeat reader of Erik Larson and he has yet to disappoint. I love the juxtaposition of the construction of The World’s Fair with the development of H.H. Holmes’s “castle.” It’s worth the time!

  • Olive Branch, MS

    Truly slow build, but by the end you’re amazed at how pivotal this fair was to the turn of the century & American culture! Larson skillfully interplay’s Holmes’s use of the chaos for his evildoings!

  • Frankfort, KY

    You’d think that in a book about a serial killer&a world fair, the parts about the fair would be boring—but you’d be wrong. The fair was actually fascinating&the way the stories wove together was A+

  • Brooklyn, NY

    Larson comes through with a thrilling true crime story wrapped up in so much interesting detail about the Chicago World’s Fair! I read this years ago, but ordered it as an add-on because I lent it out

  • New York, NY

    Melding two stories — the building and demise of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the diabolical evil of serial killer HH Holmes — this captivating and massive tome reads like a delicious novel.

  • Duncan Falls, OH

    A look at concurrent stories during the construction and event of the Chicago World’s Fair; both chilling and heart wrenching detail of murders carried out by HH Holmes and men’s conquest for power.

  • Martinez, CA

    Intrigued me to dig more into this history. I had read The Jungle so I knew a bit about that time in history - work conditions, the stockyards. The juxtaposition of the fair and Holmes - creepy good

  • Malverne , NY

    Honestly, amazing. A non-fiction that reads like a thrilling fiction. A delight to any reader who prides themselves upon being a a continuous series of, “did you knows.” I was utterly captivated.

  • Jenkintown , PA

    A great juxtaposition of 2 very different sides of Chicago during the Guilded Age. It doesn't seem the same hopeful city of the 1893 World's Fair could coexist with the world of HH Holmes, but it did.

  • Troy, MI

    This was such a fun, interesting, dark, and thought-provoking story that absolutely entranced me! ts nonfiction aspects never became boring or incomprehensible! But its murder sections were chilling!

  • League City, TX

    HH Holmes was a sick and twisted man who was able to kill for no reason. What he did to his victims bodies was unreal and this story is so scary because it was all real. Great true crime novel ❤️

  • Aurora , CO

    A masterly crafted juxtaposition between the beauty of a newly developed city and the despair that accompanied it. Larson does an incredible amount of research devoted to the discovering the truth.

  • Livonia, MI

    This was an amazing novel by Larson. I'm reading it for a writing class and I love being able to see the techniques he used in his story and sentence structuring. I'm going to read more of his books

  • Whitehall, PA

    I really loved how the author juxtaposed the societal elevation the fair brought to the city and country while simultaneously telling us about a man murdering people right under everyone’s noses.

  • Tampa, FL

    As someone from Chicago, I loved the history of the World's Fair and all the buildings that were created for the event. It was sad how easily young women were preyed upon during this event and time.

  • West Bloomfield, MI

    Thoroughly researched Historical Nonfiction. Stayed for the insights into architecture, the politics complicating the construction of the "White City", and the abnormal psychology of the murderer.

  • Dallas, TX

    One of my favorite true crime books to date. I loved the dual stories and Larson is a genius in how he weaves the narratives together to tell this nonfiction histories like a page turning thriller.

  • Louisville, KY

    Couldn’t put this book down! Excellent juxtaposition between the hopes and challenges of the world’s fair against the darkness and lies of one of America’s earlier well-known serial killers.

  • Gunnison, CO

    Fascinating and thoroughly well-researched non-fiction book that reads like historical fiction. I enjoyed the author's style and learning about the world's fair and how H.H Holmes was tied to it.

  • Dorr, MI

    Absolutely enthralling read filled with awe inspiring architecture and awful, sinister happenings. Larson's juxtaposition of two entirely different, yet equally powerful entities is entrancing.

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