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

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Book Rating (736)

Narrator Rating (73)

Written By: Erik Larson

Narrated By: Scott Brick

Date: October 2002

Duration: 15 hours 0 minutes


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The true tale of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the cunning serial killer who used the magic and majesty of the fair to lure his victims to their death.

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.


  • Quinn K

    This book was false advertising. I thought it would be a suspenseful novel about murder, scandal and secrets and instead it was literally a 15 hour novel about building a fair. The overwhelming majority of the novel was about architecture. I loved the potential of this book but it didn’t deliver and was a waste of time.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful.

  • Kathleen S.

    I found this pat of our history fascinating. All the great Americans who came together to transform Chicago and show off the things that where coming in the new century. The murderer interwoven was a lift to the fairs story. I highly recommend this book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • Ariel Burton

    I enjoyed reading the book but enjoyed it even more so having it read to me.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • Jon N.

    Absolutely love this book! I was initially sucked into it because I am a Chicago native but ultimately fell in love with it because of how well it was written and how the author kept you on your toes by alternating between the different paths of Holmes and organizers of the 1893 Worlds Fair. I can’t say enough about this book as I will just become long winded and blow the plot lines therefore, I’ll just say I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who is a lover of history yet, enjoys a good story! If that makes any sense lol!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Terryl D.

    I’ve read this book and I listen to audio books. I think your entire production, spot on!!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Sabrina B.

    Really not my favorite at all.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Anonymous

    Very good story. Gave a side and insight to history that is never seen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Michelle S

    A very long and drawn out book that seems more focused on the erection of The World Fair and it's many plans and developments as it is a "thriller" . Still interesting but not great.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • jennifer jones

    Interesting subject matter and deeply researched by the author as evidenced in the minutiae of details. Trying to figure out the tie between the story of the world fair and the murders that took place in and around the same time period, as that was the only relationship. Gave up many times, but finished it so I could learn of final judgment of Holmes. A very challenging story to get through. I enjoyed the narrator. If you are into a detailed account, I.e., down to the last details of the world fair hospital and an accounting of what illnesses and how many cases of said illnesses, and like details- you will love this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Rod B.

    Way too long and extraneous details not necessary to the dialogue of the story. Still a great listen.

  • Anonymous

    Great story

  • Jswit

    Very interesting look into the massive plans and execution of them in regards to having a world’s fair in a western city. Less about HH Holmes than I expected but still very well written fluid book.

  • Jerome L.

    Didn't like it. Not that into 12 of architecture porn

  • QueenDread222

    The book was a good read. Mostly about the world trade fair and I was expecting more about Holmes. Not dissatisfied in what was given and learned, but I wish Holmes had taken more of a focused role.

  • Cassandra C.

    Awesome story Very creepy and extremely interesting

  • Matt M.

    I found both the subject matter and the narration to be outstanding. There is a lot of detail in this book and that might be not be everybody’s cup of tea but I found it very interesting and quite compelling.

  • Anitra T.

    Facts and history of early 1900’s well done.

  • Anonymous

    I missed the trees for the forest. Loads of good detail that I couldn’t get into because I felt the structure of the parallel narratives, going back and forth, was too annoying.

  • Jennifer T

    It wasnt what I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it all the same. The story of the logistics of the fair was drawn out too much, and while the events of the fair and the serial killer were simultaneously happening, the details surrounding the killings got lost in the details of the fair.

  • Alicia M

    It was fun to hear about the historical architecture of the world's fair but I thought it was going to be more of a novel style book and a thriller. Instead it was someone reading me a history book.

  • Matthew Rioux

    Great book about a great city!

  • Josie Sturdivant

    Loved the book and it's history. Audio is the way to go made our road trip perfect!

  • Natalie Magleby

    I tried reading this book and had a hard time staying engaged. Much better having it in audio. Lots of interesting facts and well read.

  • Lyndsey Craig

    Very interesting read--particularly for those familiar with the Chicago area. Learned a lot about the history of the city and landmarks I pass by each day. The narrator really makes it!

  • LaMarr Anderson

    Interesting story of the history for 1893's Chicago World's Fair. My prior knowledge of this history was non-existent so I found it a very worthwhile history lesson. Even learned how our now standard carnival Farris wheel came about! The interwoven parallel story of evil was sobering and saddening, but added intrigue for continued reading. At the end, there was unnecessarily gory descriptions and narrative. The narration was great! Bottom interesting book but is not at the upper end of my list of recommended books.. .

  • mommyangelpink

    Excellent history of the Chicago Fair and the evil lurking so close by. Great research.

  • Frank Hoffman

    We listened to this book on our way from to Tampa and throughout our time in Tampa. It was gripping, entertaining, and unnerving all at once. The historical backdrop of the Columbian Exposition (the World's Fair) of 1893 in Chicago was fascinating, particularly for a born Chicagoan from the South Side. I spent a lot of time in my youth traveling to and enjoying Jackson Park and the Midway. The juxtaposition of the lead up to the decision for Chicago to be awarded the Fair, and its development, while listening to the dreadful exploits of Holmes was mind-boggling. Both stories running parallel to each other kept us waiting for the the next part of the story. Well written!

  • alban flores

    This book was well written and investigated historically. sure it was in detail but I think that is what makes this very interesting having been in Chicago many many times it gives you great appreciation of the places talking about. on my next short trip there which is only an hour away I'll look at Jackson Park and the the Museum of Science and Industry in a new light. this story is great for people like myself who are into history.

  • Tina Perez

    I have to agree with JoJo13 review, far too many details about the World's Fair. I lost interest, but continued to listen to the end. Thanks to Scott Brick for keeping my interest. Scott is definitely one of my favorite narrator.

  • sander rubin

    not as interesting as i had hoped, but overall well paced and extremely detailed

  • Jasmine Alleger

    I did not think I would like this book because it likes voice in the writings but the story was so fascinating I couldn't stop talking about it.

  • Jonathan Kesler

    Incredible content and structure. Very relevant to common capitalism and social dialogue.

  • Anonymous

    I had a hard time paying attention with this book. My mind would wander so often that I was completely lost and had to send the book back after the 5th disc because I had no idea what was going on. Certain parts when I would be actually "present" didn't seem too bad, but at times there was way too much detail like very specific details of what a house looked like.

  • Sharon S

    Well told - rich with history and intrigue. Loved it!

  • jojo13

    I have read several of Erik Larson's books and enjoyed them very much. So, I wanted The Devil in the White City. I was very disappointed. Larson did great work in researching this book, but the body of the story went on endlessly. I would have preferred a few less details of the troubles of creating the Chicago World's Fair and a few less details of the goings on of the Devil. To be fair, I did learn some facts that I didn't know concerning the fair. Scott Brick was, as ever, a brilliant narrator.

  • Anonymous

    The story of the World's Fair and the serial killer was interesting. The book just got bogged down in too many details. It was hard to get excited about continuing to listen. I amost gave up many times

  • Anonymous

    Being from Chicago, I found this to be a fascinating read. More to know about the World's Fair than I could have imagined. I enjoyed the parallel stories. Well worth the time to read.

  • Anonymous

    I LOVED this book!! It's really more of a history book, but it's written in a more narrative style. However, I found the two men whose lives are contrasted in this book to be fascinating--particularly H.H. Holmes. I had no idea that this man existed until now and I am utterly amazed by his crimes. It's almost too bizarre to be believed. It's an excellent read and I felt the actor who read the book did a good job, too. He fit the book well.

  • Anonymous

    This was a great book! Very well researched. If you're into historical novels, this is a must read.

  • Jean

    This is a non-fiction story of the World's Fair in Chicago in 1892. Not only covers the designing and building of the fair, The key player, but a bit of history of the time such as the depression of the 1890's. The author also tossed in the story of a serial killer who preyed on women at the Fair and in Chicago. Good book with lots of interesting information told in as a story.

  • Anonymous

    I learned a lot about Chicago from this book. It's very interesting. But, it's also pretty frightening. The narration is quite good.

  • DF

    This is a well-told set of stories--about the Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer who took advantage of it. It's the sort of story that makes history a page-turner. I've told lots of people about this book.

  • Rachel Secore

    Fantastic! I couldn't wait to get into my car to listen to this book. I have recommended this book to many people.

  • Kathleen Ross

    This was fascinating subject matter so I listened to the end, but it was painful. It was chock full of useless facts which slowed the narration to a tedious level. I had the feeling the author was trying to impress us with his research without any thought to whether the facts were particularly interesting. I usually hate abridged, but I was grateful this was abridged since I could not imagine it any longer. In addition, the book switches back and forth between two stories without effectively tying them together - perhaps it was more cohesive in full length. I gave it 2 stars because the subject matter was interesting, but I wish it had not been written like an encyclopedia.

  • Laurajean

    Devilish plot that kept me interested. Its amazing how technology has changed our perception of getting away with crime. This is a great thriller that was well narrated

  • Anonymous

    I was disappointed in this abridgement. I enjoyed the narrative about the World's Fair. However, it was very clear that there were big gaps in the other story line concerning the murders. I would have preferred to read the entire book.

  • John Hartsell

    History and place and character are made vibrantly real. Mr. Larson moves the story along at a fast pace. His focus ultimately presents a wonderfully full picture of the times and the customs and the history. A wonderful read.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting...but I think this was only because I am familiar with Chicago. If I had not been - or if I had cared little about architecture, this would have been a bore.

  • Lee Werley

    I learned alot but some of it moved slow. It was informative about the World's Fair.

  • Patty Vance-Lueck

    This was a facinating look at our history. I was amazed to learn where so many things that are with us today came from the World's Fair in Chicago. The story was good and loved that the ending summed things up and answered all the questions that I had as I read the book.

  • Anonymous

    I couldn't stop listening - this was an excellent story, very well written. I hated for it to end. All those years ago, it's amazing what was accomplished in such a short time.

  • Sarah Ritzenthaler

    I thought the premise of this book was really interesting--the tale of a real serial killer interwoven with the history of the Chicago World's Fair. While I really enjoyed the descriptions of the fair and the work that went into creating it, I was (I'll admit it) more interested in the serial killer. But this book was almost too sterile to be an engrossing tale of murder and deception. Way too many names and dates--read more like a criminal fact file than a novel. If it's the World's Fair you're interested in, you probably won't be disappointed with this book, but skip it if you're looking more for a grisly murder mystery.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent story of life in Chicago at the turn of the century, making of the 1893 world's fair and the actions of a satanic serial killer.

  • Susan

    From the beginning, Erik Larson takes you on a magic carpet ride--yet it was real, and happened just as told. At the turn of the 20th century, the magnificent Chicago World's Fair was poised to change the earth--and it did. A bird's-eye view of the tortured assembly of the Fair, along with the most amazing descriptions of its seemingly-impossible feats, will leave you breathless with wonder. Many times you will say to yourself: did that happen THERE, really?? You will in turn be astonished this marvelous event ever occurred, but thankful, once you understand how it has influenced your very own life. In a parallel universe, literally on top of the Fair, "Dr Holmes" conducted the most bizarre and heinous murder machine this country has ever seen, undetected, unrelenting, and chillingly macabre. Read with remarkable skill by the narrator, this incredible story is one you shouldn't miss.

  • Ken Crosson

    Absolutely fantastic. This story is well-written, well-read, and completely engaging. The characters are brought to life, as is the city of Chicago -- as much a character in its own right as it is a backdrop. That the events really happened makes the story that much more compelling. Larson paints in vivid color the spirit of late 19th-century America, and brings to life the immense effort behind the 1893 World Fair. At the same time, he paints just as vivid a picture of an almost unbelievably demonic serial killer, who used the allure of the fair to attract his victims, and conceal his crimes. The historical detail in Devil in the White City weaves together the cultural, political and artistic threads of the Gilded Age into a gripping, thoroughly entertaining story that any lover of history or drama will enjoy.

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

by Erik Larson

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Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Erik Larson
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Erik Larson
This title is due for release on October 17, 2002.

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Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Erik Larson
This title is due for release on October 17, 2002
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Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Erik Larson
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