Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City entertwines two stories centered around the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. The first story is that of the fair itself. He begins with Chicago's bid to win the world's fair. He continues to follow Chicago through the hiring of the architects, led by Daniel Burnham, who designed and built what became known as the "White City." He puts in so many details that show how the 1893 World's Fair changed America - shredded wheat, electricity, Cracker Jacks, ferris wheels, the famous people that attended the fair - from European royalty to Susan B. Anthony to Helen Keller. At the same time, Larson tells us the story of the World's Fair, he also unviels the story of Dr. H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who used the World's Fair as his hunting grounds killing young girls that fell into his trap.

I loved this book. It's probably the best nonfiction book I have ever read. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down. When I did have to stop, you know to sleep or work, the book stayed in the back of mind. I couldn't help wondering how the fair was going to turn out, what happened to the fairgrounds after the fair, was it considered a success. Or, better yet, how many people did Dr. H.H. Holmes kill before he got caught? How did he finally get caught? Larson does a wonderful job of switching back and forth between the two storylines. You can tell he's done a lot of research and knows his subject well.

Before I read this book, all I knew about the 1893 World's Fair was that was where the Ferris Wheel debuted (I had read it in an old magazine somewhere along the line and the story had stuck with me). Now, I know so much more about the fair but I still feel like I have only touched the edge of all that is to be learned about the fair and how it shaped America or about the evil Dr. Holmes.

Definite must read.


  1. I would still love to read something on Dr. H. H. Holmes. I wonder how many people he killed throughout his lifespan? It's spooky that people like him exist.

  2. Great review! I have had this on my TBR list for a long time, but your review makes me want to start reading it NOW! Thanks for sharing this one!

  3. I'm going to look up the Supernatural episode about him and rewatch it. See if I notice anything that I missed before because I had no clue who he was.