Skip to content

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

Select Format

Select Condition ThriftBooks Help Icon


Format: Paperback

Condition: Very Good

Save $13.31!
List Price $18.00

5 Available

Book Overview

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER - NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST - From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Splendid and the Vile comes the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

14 ratings

Intensely interesting

Wonderful book. The writing on this flows throughout & the information never gets stale. As someone that wasn't before all that interested in architecture or planning this book helped change me to an Urban Planning major. 10/10.

A bit of a bait and switch

Devil in the White City reads like two books in one. One is Chicago at its finest while the other event is Chicago at its worst. Though juxtaposition of the two events is eye-catching, not enough is known about H. H. Holmes. Most what is “known” is rumors and hype. This is in contrast to the well documented accounts of the other side of the story. The drama can feel disconnected at certain points and more focus is the architects' PoV. Erik Larson spares no expense to details. He also has a way of bringing pre-20th century Chicago to life. Larson captures even the minutest detail in the book. Expect pages and pages of characters disputing over the tiniest of details of how the fair should be. The book even has a well-documented appendix and bibliography section that presents all Larson’s sources. If Chicago, architecture, and the 1893 world fair interests you, this book is for you. If you want a serial killer drama, expect disappointment. 3/5. Though I did learn a lot of how significant the 1893 World Fair was in American history, I was expecting more excitement than what I got. The book lures us by the promise of an exciting biography of serial killer H. H. Holmes. but lets us down where it counts.

A detailed and at times awe-inspiring trip back in time

This book might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I for one loved it. Larson does a great job of really pulling you into the world and the time period he writes about, with vivid details and a sort of “in on it” style of explanation of particular events. I really felt for the main subject, architect Daniel Burnham, and I think Larson did a great job of getting inside Holmes’s mind. Both left a mark on history at a time of great turmoil and change in the world, the sort of feeling we don’t really get to appreciate anymore. This isn’t a dull history read, and it isn’t a true crime thriller, per se. I did find the end to be somewhat anticlimactic, but really enjoyed the ride nonetheless. It’s a vivid story of humanity at its best and worst.

The World at a Time of Change. Mastery and Madness display their souls.

An exceptional doctor becomes America’s first misogynist serial killer. At the same time in, in the same city, an exceptional engineer begins creating the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Historical accuracy and historical fiction at its best, from a master author.

Fantastic Book. All about the world's fair and HH Holmes.

If you are interested in history and serial killers, give this book a try. It is detailed and informative without being too much of a text book

Erik Larson is great!

I love all his books! I love history and reading about true history!

Historical Fiction

I found the book very interesting. We no longer have world fairs and this book describes the an era of a time I knew nothing about. It is a true story that can be checked out on line.

blah in parts

i was not that excited about this book, i found it rambling and not enough information about HH holmes himself, it was more about the fair and its design than anything else, i truely expected a crime book, but i found it lacking, but i did read it all, took me forever because parts of it i found so boring

One of my favorite books

Very absorbing history of the making-and mishaps-of the first Worlds Fair at Chicago, along with the disappearances of the young women who came to the Windy City.

A brilliant, spellbinding work of non-fiction

This is a fabulous story and an absolutely riveting book. And it details events that I must confess I knew absolutely nothing about! Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element if the great dynamic that characterized America's rush towards the 20th century, The architect was Daniel Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works, and the murderer was Henry Holmes, a young doctor who built his own hotel just west if the fairgrounds - a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and a 3000 degree crematorium. I loved the way Larson symbolically weaves these two stories together, and paints an invaluable and detailed picture of life at the end of the 19th century. There are many, many treasures in this book - the accounts of the initial design of the White City, the descriptions of dirt and "stink" of Chicago, and the detailing of the engineering marvels that took place at the time. I thought that the account of the invention and subsequent construction of the world's first Ferris wheel was incredibly interesting. I think that central theme raised in this book is the question of how much is a city prepared to sacrifice and spend in civic pride, and what are the ultimate costs - both monetarily and to people - in achieving this? The strive to build the White City in time for the World's Fair entailed many sacrifices, but it also showed how resilient cities can be, and how the sorts of civic decisions can effect urban living for years to come. I've never been to Chicago, but this book really stirred my interest in visiting this city.This is a fascinating book, and a must read!Michael

Mystery and History

The Devil in the White City seems like a funny name for a book. The White City is the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1892 to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. It was called White City because the major exhibition buildings were painted white. To contrast this Herman Mudgett who called himself H H Holmes after the famous fictional detective was the devil. He was a mass murderer with 9 documented killings and likely many more. This book brings to life both events that have mostly been forgotten now but were very important at the time. The book is both interesting and entertaining and kept me reading late into the night. The murders were described with detail but not any of the gore that might turn a reader off. The building and execution of the fair was also detailed but was informative without a dry and textbook sound. Even though this book reads like fiction it has been well researched and contains many direct quotes from letters and articles of the times. One of the best parts of this book was to come away with a real feel of how it was to live in a large city in the 1900's. That alone was worth the price of the book.

Fabulous Historical True Crime Saga

Author Erik Larson had set the bar pretty high for himself after his previous book, "Issac's Storm," was such a huge critical and commericial success. Surely, he couldn't top that, could he? Well, with "The Devil in the White City," Larson has produced a book at least the equal of, if not better than, his previous effort. As a work of history, this book has it all. It resurrects for the modern reader the memory of an all-too-forgotten historical event (the 1893 Chicago World's Fair) and combines it with the sensational and gruesome story of the firt American equivalent of Jack The Ripper.The book is structured as a dual biography of Daniel Hudson Burnham, the steadfast architecht who was the prime mover in making the World's Fair an astounding succes; and of Dr. H.H. Holmes, the diabolical psychopath who operated his own killing chamber in a hotel he built not far from the fairgrounds. The two men never met, nor did they have any connection other than their contemporary existance, but weaving their stories together was a brilliant choice by Larson.Larson provies plenty of colorful backdrop for his main story, vividly describing harsh life in 19th Century Chicago; the development of the first skyscrapers, the Charles Dickens-like ambiance of the streets and the colorful personalities that made it go. He also describes the amazing and lasting impact the Fair had upon America, the The Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack and Shredded Wheat being but a few of the things that debuted there. And, of course, he graphically describes the Holmes murders and the investigation that finally brought him to justice. Larson is a diligent researcher in addition to being an excellent storyteller, and that's what makes this book so special.Overall, an outstanding work of narrative history that is like to be high on most reviewer's lists of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2003.

Perfectly paced and constructed.

I downloaded this book from and listened as I did some work in my studio. What strikes me most about this book is the detailed research that went into the parallel story about the Chicago World's Fair and how it's woven around the story of the murders. Pleasant surprises are abound as little by little you get a sense of history based on the historical figures present and they are revealed very thoughtfully.I would like to write more although I don't want to spoil the tale. But I can say that a chilling picture is painted with this book, made even more so as it goes on in the background of the preperation and construction of the World's Fair. It's like looking into a crowded room and reading the mind of the one insane individual mingling with the rest of society--and put into great and interesting historical context.

Unspeakable Wonders and Startling Evil

Larson has created the first must-read nonfiction title of the year, an assured and satisfying work which vividly portrays the one of the last grand gasps of the nineteenth century, the World's Fair of 1893.Daniel Hudson Burnham, architect and overseer of the fair, builds the White City itself, while Henry H. Holmes is the titular devil, a charismatic young doctor with blood-curdling obsessions. The British of the period may have dealt with Jack the Ripper, but our ever-expanding country weaned its own monster, whose house of horrors stood in the shadows of the great architectural triumphs of the Fair.This compelling book moves with the relentlessness of the greatest novels of our time. The supporting cast includes such luminaries as Edison, Archduke Ferdinand, Buffalo Bill, and Susan B. Anthony; the ill-fated Titanic even makes an appearance in the books opening pages.Larson's evocative prose fully engulfs the viewer in the period, and the dark and dreadful scenes with Henry H. Holmes are given welcome respite by the tales of Burnham's amazing accomplishment. The enjoyment of this stunning work is only heightened by the knowledge that the story is true.

The Devil in the White City Mentions in Our Blog

The Devil in the White City in 11 True Crime Books Offering a Unique Historical Perspective
11 True Crime Books Offering a Unique Historical Perspective
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • October 11, 2022

We love books that educate while also entertaining us. Historical true crime offers a gripping story enriched with a bit of a history lesson. Read on for eleven true crime books shining a light on a particular moment in history.

The Devil in the White City in ThriftBooks is Turning 18!
ThriftBooks is Turning 18!
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 13, 2021

This month marks our eighteenth birthday here at ThriftBooks. As we transition into adulthood, we are celebrating by remembering some of the most popular books, music, and movies from 2003, the year we were born.

The Devil in the White City in 9 January Book Releases (And What to Read First)
9 January Book Releases (And What to Read First)
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 03, 2020

A new year means new books! Here are nine of the most highly anticipated titles in the first few months of 2020, plus related recommendations you can read now.

Copyright © 2023 Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Do Not Sell My Personal Information | Cookie Preferences | Accessibility Statement
ThriftBooks® and the ThriftBooks® logo are registered trademarks of Thrift Books Global, LLC
GoDaddy Verified and Secured