The Devil in the White City Review

TITLE: The Devil in the White City
AUTHOR: Erik Larson
GENRE: Historical Fiction


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. |

A Must Read Before Visiting Chicago

If wanderlust (or business) has you venturing to Chicago, you really must get your hands on this book before you start planning your itinerary.

Not only will it have you seeing some things you may not if you’re just reading a regular travel book, but you’ll know the fascinating story behind the sights making them just that much more interesting.

The Devil in the White City alternates between two mesmerizing true stories that happened simultaneously during the late 1800’s in the bustling metropolis of Chicago.

One is a meticulously detailed account of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair, from the moment the city won the privilege of hosting this international event it until its demise just months after closing.

The second is a horror story.

While city leaders, prominent businessmen and renowned architects from around the nation scrambled to design and build a modernistic and breathtaking 600-acre city-within-a-city (the “White City”) to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America, one of the world’s first and most prolific serial killers was boldly snuffing out lives at an alarming rate.

At the time, there were few in the world who hadn’t heard of the extraordinary events that occurred between May and October of 1893. The typical American of today does not. (That included me until I read this book!)

Pretty mind boggling considering that more than 26 million visitors went to the fair and the killer confessed to 27 murders of men, women and children.

The fair’s guest list included President Grover Cleveland, Hellen Keller, Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley, Charles Schwab, and Scott Joplin to name a few and numerous “firsts” were introduced at the fair—like alternating current electricity, Shredded Wheat cereal, Cracker Jacks, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, Juicy Fruit gum, belly dancing (in the U.S.), the first commercial movie theater, and the ferris wheel.

Herman Webster Mudgett, also known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, was a self-taught pharmacist and real estate investor who designed and built a hotel with soundproofed gas chambers near the White City. Right under the noses of business peers and city leaders, his hotel afforded him a constant flow of unsuspecting occupants.

After his confession, nine of his murders were confirmed, but the actual number of victims was suspected to be as high as 200.

Erik’s research was sweeping and impeccable, and his writing as engaging as any fiction novel.

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