Devil in the White City

Devil in the White City


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.  (Summary and book cover courtesy of


This was a book that had so much hype around it that I had high expectations.  And while I overall enjoyed the book, I found it a little lackluster.  The book is comprised of two storylines that occurred at the same time, but barely overlapped, which made me wonder if they really should have been forced together.  The history itself was fascinating however, particularly because I lived in the Chicago area for most of my life.  It’s hard to believe that so many important figures in history were all in the same place at the same time!

My frustration overall is that the book was a bit dry.  I think it would make a fantastic read in a classroom where studying the historical time period could add to the depth and interest.  I give the book four stars due to my love of Chicago (and pride in the city), but otherwise it would have been sitting at three.

Warning: Contains some gruesome details about H.H. Holmes’ murders

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? History buffs and Chicagoans.