The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Book - 2003
Average Rating:
Rate this:
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 Herman W. Mudgett, alias H.H. Holmes a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, c2003
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780609608449
Characteristics: xi, 447 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

This ambitious, engrossing tale of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 focuses on two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect who was the driving force behind the fair, and Henry H. Holmes, a charismatic, handsome doctor who wormed his way into the heart of the city to advance a sadistic serial killin... Read More »

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

CRRL_MegRaymond Feb 21, 2018

1893. The World’s Columbian Exposition, also known at the Chicago World’s Fair. The “White City” was an amazing feat of engineering, entertainment, and discovery. It was also a great place for an enterprising serial killer like Henry H. Holmes.

Jan 30, 2018

Reminded me a lot of The Boys In the Boat. Tremendous research, well-written, name intensive... at times put me to sleep, but I am a better person for reading this. Seriously it is amazing how much of US history is tied into the World Fair of 1893. Definitely recommend to read before it hits the big screens.

Jan 22, 2018

Everything you never wanted to know about the 1893 Chicago world's fair. About 10% of the book is about the exploits Henry Mudgett. Waste of time if your looking for literature on H.H.Holmes

Jan 20, 2018

#2 A Book of True Crime

Jan 10, 2018

A great read about a huge moment in American history. The author does an outstanding job transporting the reader back into the grimy, cutthroat but highly innovative past surrounding Chicago during the time of the World Fair. The intertwined murder story happening in parallel is just as good as well.

Nov 14, 2017

If you can get past all of the engineering material, it is a really good book.

Sep 28, 2017

A fascinating tale of the Columbian Exhibition (the World’s Fair) and how it came to be built in Chicago on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, a subject that constitutes 85 percent of the book. Such an event would not even be attempted today. The remaining 15 percent of the book tells the story of America’s first serial killer, a man who operated with impunity during the time of the Fair in Chicago, who he killed, and how he was caught. Another small portion of the book is about a crazy man who, how do I say this?, put a full stop to the Fair. The chronicle of the Fair is compelling; that of the killer and the crazy man deeply unsettling. Well worth reading.

Aug 24, 2017

I had heard good things about this book so had it on my "For Later" list at the library. When the hubby and I went to the thrift store for the last piece of an upcoming running costume I was told I needed to spend $3 to use my credit card. Off to the book section I went and I grabbed this title for $1 - SCORE! This is a non-fiction book that intertwines the history of the 1983 World's Fair in Chicago and a serial killer. I am normally not a history buff, but this kept me engaged and I was able to finish the book in about two days. Seeing all of the inventions (and famous folks) that came from this era was pretty awesome. Also, I appreciate all of the work the author put into the book (all quotes came from letters, newspaper articles, interviews, etc). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

Jun 23, 2017

In early 1890 Congress voted to give the 1893 Columbian Exposition (aka World's Fair) to the city of Chicago, providing director Daniel Burnham less than three years to bring this monumental project to fruition -- a seemingly impossible task. At the same time, a more sinister project was in the works a mile down the road in Englewood, where physician H. H. Holmes was building a peculiar and disquieting apartment building. Erik Larson does an excellent job telling the story of how these two ostensibly parallel story lines intersect in wonder and tragedy.

This is one of those books that are perennially popular at the library, and it had been on my I-should-probably-pick-that-up-one-of-these-days list for years. Recently, I listened to a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast about H. H. Holmes, which proved (finally) to be the catalyst, and I devoured it while on vacation. The chapters about Holmes were slightly more unputdownable, but the details pertaining to the planning and execution of the fair were mind-blowing. The vastness of the exposition buildings and the sheer number of workers onsite during construction seemed astonishing for that time period. I'm somewhat saddened that today the Museum of Science and Industry remains the only major building standing from this momentous event in American history. I shall visit it!

Jun 20, 2017

Absolutely fascinating. I loved this book. The juxtaposition of the creation of the World's Fair and the destruction wrought by Holmes was most interesting. The ease with which he committed his crimes is easily explained by the era itself. Communication - amongst family members and especially among police departments -was not nearly so prevalent as it is today. In fact, it was almost non-existent. (If a family member moved to the city for a better life and you never heard from them again, most people just figured that that person had just moved on with their lives and certainly very few had the time or the money or other means to come looking. It was the rare family that did so.) And the spread of news was mind-boggling slow compared to not just today but even a few years after this time. When I finished this book I wanted to take the train (because that's how people travelled in those days :) ) back to see the city and the World's Fair. I highly recommend this book.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

Brenda74 Nov 12, 2012

Brenda74 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add a Summary

notTom Dec 16, 2010

Between majestic architecture and cold-blooded murder, the early 1890's were a defining period for the city of Chicago. The Colombian Exposition of 1893 (the World's Fair of 1893, so named to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's landing in America) proved that Chicago could put its elbows on the table of the world's greatest cities. It hugely impacted the course of American history through its influence on technology, architecture, and the popular conscience. This book weaves together the stories of Daniel Burnham, a prominent architect in charge of planning the Exposition, and Herman Webster Mudgett, better known to history as H.H.Holmes, America's first serial killer. Opening a hotel just down the Midway from the fair, Holmes was ensured of a constant flow of trusting young women. What his ill-fated guests did not realize was the presence of air-tight rooms with gas-jets, a greased body chute and the basement containing vats of acid and a crematorium. In the style of Truman Capote, this is a non-fiction novel, a gripping account of deeds of great and evil men alike, made all the more interesting because these events really happened.


Add a Quote

Aug 06, 2015

"With its gorgeous classical buildings packed with art, its clean water and electric lights, and its overstaffed police department, the exposition was Chicago's conscience, the city it wanted to become."


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at SSFPL

To Top