The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City Summary

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.

“Relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel .... It doesn’t hurt that this truth is stranger than fiction.” —The New York Times

Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

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 the enchantment of the Guilded Age, 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.

Book Reviews


Very mediocre1 star

This book had lots of good press, but is a very lame book.15


Never thought a worlds fair would keep me up at nite reading!!!5 star

Fantastic dramatic historical book! Story lines are parallel but not dependent on each other! Fascinating to think that the events are researched and true! You won’t be disappointed I promise!55


Terrific5 star

Read this, if only to gain a strong sense of the background of American architectural influences, some which are present today. Oh- and there is a serial killer in this story. Endlessly fascinating!55


History lesson and true crime all in one5 star

Really amazing book with fascinating history of Chicago and the story of a serial killer all in one book. Very compelling read55


For those who have problem finishing the book3 star

Nothing happens if you don’t read the chapters related to Daniel Burnham or Olmsted.35


Loved this book5 star

Can’t say enough good things about this book.55


Chicago’s Fair5 star

There was a lot more to the book than a story about Holmes. This may attract you to the book or not. I loved the story of the engineers and architects fighting out the Worlds Fair in Chicago. After reading this book, I went to Central Park and saw Olmsted in its current design. The desires of great men both good and evil was laid before you.55


Best Book I’ve Ever Read5 star

This book is written so eloquently. Larson puts you in each scene with such elegance of imagery and language. This story is so enthralling. I’ve read it twice back to back.55

Dirty JP

Very Good4 star



The World Fair with a Dash of Murder1 star

This book spent more time discussing the world fair, it’s struggles, involved parties and everything that went into it vs Holmes and his murder house.15

Other Books by Erik Larson

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