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


Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller In the Garden of Beasts—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. 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.

Characters (Real people)

Although the focus of this book was split into two pieces the real focus of the books was on the serial killer H. H. Holmes and the primary architect  Daniel Burnham. Two men couldn’t be more opposite, while Burnham is full of wonder and hope, Holmes is full of a desire to exploit people and then possibly kill them. The difficult piece to keep track of was the slew of of people that the author threw at you, and the way in which they were presented at times (gives all the information and then drops the name at the end).


Just like the people are split, most of the chapters jump between a very historical telling, with a few personal touches, of the Worlds Fair in Chicago. The other story writes of H. H. Holmes plans, his rise to money and questionable wealth, and his ‘evil.’ One gives you the facts of the fair, bringing in well known figures that have impacted other historical stories, and all of it all tying back to the fair and mostly Burnham. The other is also written in a way of a textbook but there are stronger dramatic lines as you learn where Holmes comes from, that Holmes isn’t even his first name but is the one he uses the most. You follow him on a journey that is both fascinating and ugly. I know it was so well written that anyone who fell into Holmes’s path I would grimace – it rarely ended well for them. The fact that this was a non-fiction book only made it worse!


It was a book that stayed true to form. It was historically fascinating, a crime drama with touches of personal information to keep you invested. Although at times I struggled with the almost textbook like writing, it was inner mingled with a beautiful narrative that was difficult to put down at times.


4 stars

The writing was excellent, the plot well presented, and the choices in main focuses created a wonderful balance. The hard part for me was trying to read this at night, after a long day, and getting bombarded with facts. Sometimes I had to set it down and just walk away. Despite those moments, I did like it a lot and would recommend it to anyone who wants a mentally stimulating read that is non-fiction.


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