Customer Reviews for

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

48 out of 56 people found this review helpful.

Reviewed by K. Osborn Sullivan for TeensReadToo.com

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 or...
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.

posted by TeensReadToo on October 27, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

33 out of 50 people found this review helpful.

Not enoough Killer, & too much architecture.

The title of the book is misleading. Basically the book is two entirely, unrelated stories that have nothing to do with each other. If you like architecture and the history thereof, you may very well enjoy this book. However, if you are a mystery/thriller buff, it wi...
The title of the book is misleading. Basically the book is two entirely, unrelated stories that have nothing to do with each other. If you like architecture and the history thereof, you may very well enjoy this book. However, if you are a mystery/thriller buff, it will be a big disappointment.

posted by VickiK on February 22, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    Not worth it

    While the historical significance and engineering marvels are interesting, story is boring and hard to finish

    6 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2012

    Ok but not gripping enough

    The idea/plotline is absolutely riviting! However, i could sm up the first 120 pages in less then 5 pages!! The author drags on about unimportant details that make it extremely difficult to get through. After part 1 end though, te book really picks up! Defnitely read this book but make sure you drink many cups of coffee before attempting the first 120 pages!

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2012

    BORING! I had to put it down before finishing it because it was

    BORING!
    I had to put it down before finishing it because it was so boring and long winded.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2014

    Jaden Gray

    This book is dumme.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2013

    Sucks

    This book does not make since

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013

    Deeply disappointed.

    Maybe my fault but was expecting the book to be about the serial killer . Instead it was mostly about the Worlds Fair. As a historical coverage of the building of the fair, Bravo, but for what I expected, not good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2013

    Not what I expected

    I was looking for a crime thriller when I purchased this book. This book has parts of being a crime thriller strewn throughout a history book. The book is extensive and exhausting about the Chicago World Fair and the main players who brought the fair to Chicago. Found myself skipping through pages of narrative to get back to the killer in the story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    -A

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    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2012

    Don't waste your time

    I'm sorry to be negative but this book doesn't deliver on any level. It is a drudgery of boring factoids sparsely supported with glib descriptions and barely any character development beyond cardboard cutout descriptions. Boring, boring, boring. So bad I gave up a little over halfway through to start something else, anything else is better than this. I had hoped to read an exciting novel about a serial killer in turn-of-the-century Chicago, instead there is hardly any mention of the culprit, no insight; only page after page of how the world's fair got built, with teasing asides that there might be something else going on. Who cares? Lie to me, tell a tale, something please. I thought this would be a page turner but it wore me down. I give it a big thumbs down.

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  • Posted March 30, 2012

    Enlightening, entertaining

    Erik Larson is adept when writing of historical events in the manner of a novelist. This book brings historical perspective to a time in world history. Reader finds out about the origin of Shredded Wheat and Cracker Jacks, landscaping challenges resolved, lighting inventions and a myriad of other facts. On the alternative side of this the reader is given a
    graphic portrayal of a serial murder who lived and operated at the same time in the same city. The two stories together show the best of mankind and the worst of mankind.

    I needed to read this book a second time for a book club. I found that the grizzly part made that an unpalatable read, though, the first time through was a true page turner.

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  • Posted January 25, 2012

    Fantastic!

    An excellent true story, actually TWO stories intertwined. Couldn't put it down.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Do Not Waste Your Time!

    The title is definitely misleading. The author focuses so much on Architecture. If I wanted a book about Architecture that would be one thing. The detail description of the architecture was so boring.. it went on page after page. I tried my hardest to finish it but gave up.. It is not a mystery I got through have the book which was torture hoping it would pick up... Luckily it was a gift.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2011

    Don't waste your time!

    Graphic descriptions that do nothing for the plot, cruel images, and meaningless rantings that move like cold syrup.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Quit half way through!!!~

    This book originally about the building of the Chicago World Fair is interesting in that aspect although far to drawn out with the health problems of engineers etc - but did not get published until the absurd serial killer story was absorbed into it - the killer story never reaches into the meat of the book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2011

    Boring

    This book was such a let down. Long and so boring! I couldn't get through it and finally stopped torturing myself after 250 pages. I don't understand all the rave reviews.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2009

    Worst book I ever read

    I cannot believe that this book has received the rave reviews that it has. I feel that I am open minded when it comes to styles of literature. I also believe that I recognize good writing. However, I could not appreciate or enjoy this book. I must be missing something. I read Devil in the White City as a book club choice. We always rate from one to four. I will be giving a zero.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2009

    I did not purchase this book nor do I intend to.

    will not read

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2005

    Unbelievably boring

    I just could not make myself finish such a lackluster book. The book lacked clarity, wit and flow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2005

    Disappointed!

    I thought that this book was going to be great, but it turned out to be very dull and boring. It is tedious just trying to get through it. Infact, I came close to giving up several times. Some parts were interesting though, usually concerning Holmes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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