The Devil in the White City Online by Erik Larson
Click Here to Download the 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.
Reviews The only real fault I can find with this book is this: they don't tell you the name of the serial killer they're talking about on the back jacket. I bought this book as a gift for someone, thinking it seemed interesting to me as well, and only now got a chance to read a copy, only to find (spoiler) that it was a killer with whom I was already familiar: Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes. I should have known from the timeline description, but I didn't even think about it until shortly into the book, when Larson tells us who it is. Had I known it was H.H. Holmes, I would have read this long ago! America's first serial killer, with more notches on his murder belt than Jack the Ripper, and the World's Fair, about which I knew very little. The author does a fantastic job of putting us in the time and place: Chicago of the 1890s. And we contrast the construction of the great "White City" against the the machinations of Holmes and the construction of his murder house. The attention to detail is fantastic, and chilling. I can tell that, for some, the book might seem dry, particularly in the beginning. No exciting murders on page one, I'm afraid. But the author starts in the relative future to the text proper, before flashing back and setting us up to understand the times. This is all the better to be shocked as we get to the murders, and impressed as the Fair is successful. The extra little bits of historical context are a treat as well, that help place the events far better than simply memorizing dates. I'd never even thought about the fact that Fall River's murders, and the OJ trial of the 1800s, was in 1892...it's not dwelt upon in the book, getting only one line, but it and the other tidbits strewn about within the text helped place the history and give it a sense of reality at times missing from other works of history. I think it could have used more pictures, but then, I'm not sure if there were more to use. I appreciated that there were copious notes in the back of references and notes, while at the same time also appreciated that the text could be read, understood, and enjoyed without ever looking at those references or notes once. All in all, a quite good book, and far better than I'd hoped it would be.
This is one of those thoroughly entertaining history books that should be read by every American with an interest in the on-going discussion of how the American consciousness came to be. Set in the Gilded Age, Larson spins a factually true tale of three American men whose lives center around the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago: an ambitious architect looking to establish once and for all the value of American art and intellectualism; a con-artist turned murderer whose ruthless desire to possess and control people leads him to commit numerous murders; and an innocent immigrant dreamer whose avid belief in the American dream tips
into insanity. The book is substantiated documentation, but it reads like a novel, making for a page-turning experience as fascinating as it is informative. A stirring portrait of the different ways rugged individualism can manifest itself, this is the kind of book that enriches your life, your sense of self, where we come from as a nation, and where we have the potential to go.
An amazing book detailing two culture-changing events: the Columbian Exhibition / World's Fair of 1893 in Chicago, and the first sociopathic serial killer widely known in the United States. Even as the "White City" of the fair, through remarkable travails and trials remade America's architectural aesthetic and definition of paradise, H. H. Holmes was preying upon the newcomers to the city, especially the young women who came to find their fortune, or perhaps just some happiness. There are a lot of times in going through this book that I wished the two tales weren't so intertwined. Both are fascinating stories, albeit for different reasons. The financial, practical, aesthetic, and idealistic challenges of turning the scrub lots of Jackson Park and the south side of Chicago into such a remarkable event are fascinating to read about. Similarly, the sinister activities of Holmes, his Bundy-like charm and ability to boldly lie and glad-hand his way past the defenses of creditors and victims alike, are so interesting and jarring in their own way that switching between the two was consistently disturbing, no matter which way the tale shifted. An amazing look at the late Victorian "Gilded Age" and the dawn of both mass amusement and media obsession with killers. Scott Brick does a fine job on the audiobook, his ability to handle the linguistic patterns of the era coupled with a droll cynicism in his voice give the reader insight into both the wonders (and facade) of the fair and the suaveness (and horror) of Holmes' psychopathy. The only drawback to the audiobook is not having any pictures of the titular White City to look at (Google Images is your friend). Highly recommended.
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