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

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America



The Goodreads description: 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. 

Burnham’s challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous “White City” around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair’s incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. 

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World’s Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.


My short remarks: 

Could’ve used more devil, less white city. I don’t think many people search for this book hoping to read up on the Worlds Fair and the majority of the book focuses on that. Holmes is sprinkled throughout and at last dominates the last small section of the book. Four stars due to the crazy amount of research it takes to write a book like this.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

  1. El Vega says:

    Exactly what I thought when I wrote my review of the book on my blog ( It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels this way!

    • angiedet says:

      You’re certainly not alone in that. A friend was reading it at the same time I was and felt the same way. I think most people pick up this book for the Holmes factor, not necessarily the fair info. Still a good read.

  2. Agreed! As a member of the “Friends of the White City” whose mission is to preserve the history of the Columbian Exposition/Fair, Larsen goes into great detail to portray the magnificence of the “White City”. However, as an author of an upcoming Holmes book, “The Devil in the White City” does not give the nature of Holmes’ life and crimes any measureable amount of credit.

    If you would like to see more of what I am working on, you can check it out at:

    BTW – I will continue to be an avid follower, you present a nice review!

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