The Devil in the White City - A Review

The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've been going through my Goodreads.com account today, updating my books and adding reviews and sharing a couple here. I read this book in 2005 as a library book after I saw it won the Edgar Award for best Best Fact Crime the year before. I own a copy, I re-read it last year.

My fascination with the World's Colombian Exhibition (1893 Chicago World's Fair) began when I went to work for the President Benjamin Harrison Home. As President, Harrison commissioned the Expo. A formality really. The Fair began as a 400th Anniversary Celebration of Columbus landing in the Americas. It soon grew beyond that. Harrison attended it after leaving office and apparently enjoyed himself. At least until his cousin and popular Chicago Mayor, Carter Harrison, Sr. was assassinated two days before the fair's closing.

Lighted by millions of incandescent lights (all powered by AC) the Expo introduced the World to such new items as Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix and Shredded Wheat. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show entertained with several shows a day. Pabst beer won that famous blue ribbon there! Edison debuted his version of the motion picture camera and the electric chair was presented and used for the first time. There are many great sites online where you can look at photos and find information about the Fair. I'd encourage you to put 'World's Colombian Exposition' and or '1893 Chicago World's Fair' in your search engines and be amazed by The White City.

Larson's book tells the true story of two men: Daniel Burnham, the visionary architect who designed the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and inadvertently created the perfect conditions for one of America's first serial killers, Herman Webster Mudgett aka Dr. H. H. Holmes to murder with impunity. Mudgett used the fair to lure young women to his hotel where they meet their bloody ends down in it's secret vaults. It's estimated that Mudgett murdered somewhere between 25 to 200 women in his World’s Fair Hotel.

Larson does a masterful job of weaving their stories together. In his hands, Burnham's fight to build his fair is just as gripping as Mudgett's murders, and somehow these two very different tales become one. It's well researched, fast-paced and filled with nail-biting suspense. Triumph and tragedy, a vanished time and a lost kingdom, a terrific but sometimes creepy read.

February 10th 2004 by Vintage

first published


isbn - 0375725601 (isbn13: 9780375725609)


literary awards
Edgar Award, 2004 - Best Fact Crime

similar and recommended
Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City.

View all my reviews.

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