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

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In Chicago, near the end of the 1800s, two very different narratives were unfolding. On one hand, the World’s Fair was imminent, showcasing the newest and most wonderful products the world had to offer, including the electric light, shredded wheat, and Pabst beer (it was at this event that it won its trademark Blue Ribbon). On the other hand, one of the most prolific and unheard of serial killers was playing his trade. Beautifully told and impeccably researched, Mr. Larson brings to life this extremely interesting period in American history.

  • Recommended by Scott

— From December Staff Picks For Everyone This Holiday Season

The Chicago World Fair was a stunning event that marked a shift in how the world regarded both America and Chicago, the latter of which was quickly growing from a dirty city known for its slaughterhouses to a sprawling metropolitan area quickly rising to prominence in business and society. Erik Larson covers the remarkable construction of the fairgrounds, built to rival the recent fair in Paris that had unveiled the Eiffel Tower, and some of the insane events that accompanied the resulting influx of visitors to the city - particularly, the sinister actions of one H.H. Holmes, a psychotic serial killer who constructed a hotel designed to lure young women visiting the city to their untimely deaths. Larson has a great storytelling style, narrating the events in such a way that it almost sounds fictional - though you can be assured, every quotation included came from a reliable document. This is a great read for history junkies, particularly if you have an interest in the macabre.

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This New York Times bestseller 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.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. 

Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

About the Author

ERIK LARSON is the author of four national bestsellers: In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm, which have collectively sold more than 5.5 million copies. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and other publications and his books have been published in fourteen countries.

Praise For…

“Engrossing . . . exceedingly well documented . . . utterly fascinating.” — Chicago Tribune

“A dynamic, enveloping book. . . . Relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel. . . . It doesn’t hurt that this truth is stranger than fiction.” — The New York Times

"So good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already." — Esquire

“Another successful exploration of American history. . . . Larson skillfully balances the grisly details with the far-reaching implications of the World’s Fair.” — USA Today

“As absorbing a piece of popular history as one will ever hope to find.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Paints a dazzling picture of the Gilded Age and prefigure the American century to come.” — Entertainment Weekly

“A wonderfully unexpected book. . . Larson is a historian . . . with a novelist’s soul.” — Chicago Sun-Times
Product Details
ISBN: 9780375725609
ISBN-10: 0375725601
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: February 10th, 2004
Pages: 464
Language: English
Series: Vintage