The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson
Paperback- $9.99

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 ...

Overall rating:

 

How would you rate this book?

Member ratings

 
  "A perfect combination of history and suspense!" by dlwells (see profile) 06/19/06

 
  "Two stories in one, which can be read simultaneously or separately." by scribread (see profile) 08/19/06

The story of the World's Fair from its conception to completion is a mulifaceted and fascinating look at a specific time and city, and the men (and a few women) who made the Fair happen.

The story of Holmes is peripheral to the Fair. Holmes uses the environment of a booming city and the construction of the fair to enable his criminal activities. The character of Holmes remains illusory in comparison to those men building the Fair.

 
  "We enjoyed the intertwined stories and the historic perspective." by ktremble (see profile) 09/21/06

 
  "excellent non-fiction must read" by sluce (see profile) 09/27/06

This is an excellent non-fiction book. It illuminates an important period in Americas history along with the accoun of the mass murderer Holmes.

Out book club was divided into those that loved the book and those that were lukewarm on the book.

Decide for yourself - it is worth the time

 
  "A true-to-life metaphor of good an evil" by kristorr (see profile) 11/21/06

Not only is the story facinating, but Erik Larson has a real gift for writing non-fiction like a story. There were many times that I forgot this was all factual data he had written.

His research was very thorough, but not repetative.

I would highly recommend this book (especially if you are from Chicago). It is informative, facinating and frightening all at the same time. And it is wonderful to revisit all the many things we take for granted today that made it's debut at the World' Fair

 
  "It would be better as two books instead of a combined story." by Anais (see profile) 12/14/06

I'm probably one of the few that didn't really enjoy this book. I thought the architectural history was boring and unnecesssary to tell the story of Dr. Holmes. This would have been better as two seperate books, not a combined book.

 
  "There's so much new to learn about the Chicago World's Fair." by stumpy (see profile) 02/23/07

A great read from beginning to end. Highly recommend!

 
  "Not very interesting" by mariauy (see profile) 02/26/07

I guess I kept waiting for the stories to come together but they never did. Like another reader, I found a lot of the architectural detail to be drawn-out and boring. It was a nice history lesson, and well-written from a literary perspective. Other than that, I found it rather boring.

 
  "Interesting Read; Not as Interesting to Discuss" by crasnick (see profile) 03/02/07

We were mixed 50/50 on basic enjoyment of the read. Our group did not enjoy the discussion as well as other books.

 
  "The story of two men's obsessions with the Chicago World's Fair, one its architect, the other a murderer." by cecilymartinez (see profile) 05/08/07

 
  "Columbian Exposition, Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer. White City vs Black City...good v evil?" by kjphenix (see profile) 05/18/07

Large group liked the book. Each saw something different in it. Most believed the story of the fair could have stood on its own, no need for Mudgett/Holmes story. We could have used some pictures...couldn't quite visualize the Ferris wheel. Of course, we served Cracker Jack.

 
  "Good book!" by jendicus (see profile) 07/27/07

 
  "Enjoyed the book so much - our hostess had Cracker Jack for everyone!" by PennyD (see profile) 10/22/07

 
  "Rich Setting with an Evil Taunt" by elahenaz (see profile) 01/28/08

Educational but fun. Overall I give it a B

 
  "architecture, engineering and a murder mystery" by melanieseibel (see profile) 06/04/08

 
  "Proof that fact is stranger than fiction!" by donnadeleon (see profile) 06/04/08

Our club gave this book very mixed reviews, but I was impressed with Larsen's ability to deliver the facts in such an entertaining and highly readable format. The parallel portrayal of Holmes' wanton destruction of so many lives and Burnham's near-impossible completion of the Chicago World's Fair made for plenty of good discussion. The many ways in which the Fair impacted our everyday lives were as surprising as the ghastly murders that went so long undiscovered.

 
  "This is NON FICTION readers, so be prepared...Excellent Story by Larson" by jaseifert (see profile) 07/04/08

Any time you pick a book be sure you understand the genre...Although Larson tells a true story in a manner that appears to be fiction (good story telling)it was still based on actual events. So if you expect the two stories that were parallel events at the Chicago's Worlds Fair you will be sadly disappointed.

As with others, our book club had mixed reviews - mostly bad, but again I think it is because most are so accustomed to fiction reading that they forget real life doesn't work that way. The stories independently are amazing stories of American History. Folks say the architectural piece of the book was boring, but think about what they accomplished in a short amount of time in the conditions that existed in Chicago in the 1850's. Simply amazing!

Of course with the onslaught of people coming into the city, it was a perfect "hunting" ground for America's first serial killer.

Excellent book but level set you reading mind before taking this on. Read it for what it is - American History.

 
  "Historical account of the World's Fair in Chicago" by ddrew (see profile) 07/15/08

The author used citations in such an interesting way to write the book, that this nonfiction book almost seemed like fiction. It was very informative and aligned events and people of that era. Excellent reading!

 
  "This is a very informative, detailed interesting read." by peggyjean (see profile) 07/16/08

I do recommend this book to any book club. It is a historic picture of the trials and triumps during the formation and conducting of the Chicage World's Fair.

 
  "The Chicago World's Fair and a murderer" by dmc1230 (see profile) 08/12/08

This book was much better than I had anticipated. It is not a novel, it's non-fiction and very carefully researched. It is really two stories that parallel each other. One is a fascinating account of the architects behind the Chicago World's Fair. The other is about a psycho killer who stalks naive women in Chicago during this time period. I am not a fan of murder mysteries and the stories of Holmes and his evil doings would have put me off but this is told is small chapters and without too many grisly details. There ARE a lot of details about attendance and about new inventions for the fair (Cracker Jacks! the Ferris Wheel! Zippers!) I also liked the references to many personalities of this time period... a young Walt Disney, a new architect named Frank Lloyd Wright, Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, Jane Addams etc. All in all, a great read!

 
  "A nice blend of three story lines lends to an appreciation for the event and its impact on today." by moihart (see profile) 08/22/08

Took a while to get into the writing style, but I was fascinated by the details of the fair's construction and the experiences of people from all walks of life in Chicago at the time.

 
  "I t is a book that combines 3 actual happenings and how they over shadow each other" by jimita (see profile) 09/17/08

I was a great book. A little slow reading at first but then it picks up. Wonderful hirstorical book. It made me want to look things up about the fair and the main characters. It even encouraged me to take are architectual boat tour of Chicago.

It is a gruesome in spots. It is hard to believe that one human being could be sho evil.

 
  "A slow read at first but very interesting" by Jvargas1 (see profile) 10/27/08

Devil in the White City is a good book. Because we are in Chicago, this historical aspect was very interesting. The story does start out a bit slow. The chapters about the serial killer were the easiest for me to read. In all this book allowed for a good discussion. It may not have been a book I would have read on my own but I'm glad I did.

 
  "Historical Non-Fiction about the Chicago's World Fair" by acosentino (see profile) 10/27/08

Not a great fan of the book, but saw why others liked it. Thought it moved painstakingly slow and then wrapped up very quickly.

 
  "Interesting since factual" by kcrider (see profile) 11/05/08

Some parts drag (i.e., architect portions), but the serial killer portion is great and made it more interesting since this is a true story and happened in Chicago where I am from.

 
  "l-o-n-g and VERY detailed. I found myself skipping over parts." by kgrugan (see profile) 01/26/09

Interesting from a historical standpoint.

 
  "2 Excellent Tales in one Great Novel" by tgreen (see profile) 01/26/09

This book is excellent. It's a WELL written true story with an abundance of historical detail that we can somewhat relate to. It brings an appreciation of history, innovation, and even devastation. Burham and Holmes have remarkable characteristics that are more similar than not. This was definitely a page-turner. You'll forget you're reading a true story just because it reads like a novel. This is for the historian and for those that enjoy mysteries/thrillers.

Note: I encourage you to add more pointed questions when having your discussion.

 
  "A great non-fictional account of the Chicago World's Fair and the mysteries surrounding a serial killer stalking the city" by katray (see profile) 01/28/09

Our book club really enjoyed this book. The author did an impressive amount of research for this topic and while it is non-fiction, the writing style made for easy and exciting reading.

 
  "Wonderful book and great conversation" by dswiley (see profile) 02/16/09

This was a fabulous book. It was well received and great for converstation. Some of us are even interested in traveling to Chicago to do the Devil in the White City tour. I have bought the book and given it to some of my friends and family to read.

 
  "I enjoyed the book, however it was filled with alot of what seemed like mundane information." by srhmrtnz (see profile) 03/27/09

 
  "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America" by grtimler (see profile) 06/01/09

 
  "The Devil in the White City" by cecile18 (see profile) 07/01/09

Excellent historic read. Loved the dual story.

 
  "Devil in the White City" by honeybee91797 (see profile) 07/02/09

One of the best books ever!! why this part of history has never been told is a mysttery, something all americans should know!!

 
  "The Devil in the White City" by tmcdanel (see profile) 08/05/09

 
  "Great Book!" by djconti (see profile) 10/16/09

 
  "Can't believe this is a true story" by dborda (see profile) 11/04/09

This is a nonfiction book that reads like a novel. A very detailed account of late 1800s Chicago and the events surrounding the 1893 World's Fair and a series of murders committed in close proximity to the fair.

 
  "The Devil in the White City" by hgould (see profile) 11/17/09

 
  "mixed review" by boshea (see profile) 02/10/10

A lot of interesting facts but very dry. A slow read.

 
  "The Devil in the White City" by chorner (see profile) 02/25/10

Lively portrayal of the first worlds fair in chicago and a parallel story of a serial killer who lived at the same time, same place-Chicago.

 
  "This book is really two stories in one ..." by lakmanel (see profile) 07/18/10

The book has two parallel stories: one involves the planning, building and holding of the World's Fair in Chicago; the second involves a serial murderer who used the cover of the World's Fair to find a seemingly never ending source of victims. The aspects of the World's Fair offers a glimpse into a world gone by, and the details of the murders are chilling and haunting.

 
  "Dual stories, both interesting in their own regard. Together, they make for informative, interesting reading." by skarohlid (see profile) 07/29/10

 
  "devil" by CindyW (see profile) 11/10/10

 
  "Our favorite part was the serial killer" by brnoze (see profile) 07/22/11

Our group liked the book but the group felt without the serial killer we would have never finished the book. The chapters about Holmes the murderer were what moved the book along. Kind of sad that this is what we liked best and the fabulous building of the World's Fair was at times interesting but for most of us too detailed to keep our interest.

 
  "Great book club selection" by mcomai (see profile) 01/10/12

The Devil in the White City not only provides an interesting read but leads to a quest for more information on the World's Fair of 1893, the Guilded Age, inventions from that era as well as the city of Chicago. Our group had a good discussion on the opposing forces of the main characters and enjoyed watching a DVD on the World Fair as well. The book was fascinating and we all enjoyed the authors writing style.

 
  "An unknown tidbit of history" by hugalli (see profile) 05/23/12

A very insightful look into a piece of history I never knew about.

 
  " The Devil in the White City" by [email protected] (see profile) 07/25/12

My book club just finished this book and all in all the women liked this book. Having said that I should clarify that only a handful of the women in the group had actually finished said book in time for our meeting but the rest were continuing to read and were determined to finish it. I don't think it was a situation where the book was difficult, boring, or not interesting because all the comments from the women were just the opposite. I think it was just that we are in the middle of summer and people have a lot going on that prevents them from reading. Also, last month we read book 1 of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series and two of the women in our group found themselves involved in finishing up that series before they could even think about moving on to "The Devil in the White City". Most of the women were at least half way through it and what everyone was saying was that they found the book fascinating. Especially the parts about how the fair itself was pulled together by shear will and determination. Also, it was amazing to read about some of the items or things we use nowadays that were introduced at that fair. I think everyone in our group would recommend this book as a great book for another book club to select and read.

 
  "Devil in the white city" by wdbrownjr (see profile) 08/21/13

Great page turner. Unique blend of history and macabre reality blended into a single story written like fiction. Also enjoy the local historical connections.

 
  "Devil in the White City" by ldown68 (see profile) 11/11/15

Somewhat dark, but an interesting insight into what the world (and particularly America) was like in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, there were a lot of unanswered questions (like how many people did HH Holmes really kill???), which was unsatisfying. Overall, though, I liked the book.

 
  "Very slow going" by carolkaskin (see profile) 11/19/15

Several of the book club ladies found this book redundant and slowly paced. While we all learned some interesting facts, we also felt that the book could have been greatly condensed. Also, not having a clearer picture of what could have caused the evil in Holmes disturbed several members.

 
  "" by Sloanie (see profile) 12/06/15

 
  "Devil in the White City" by tavflan63 (see profile) 12/07/15

It is a piece of non-fiction though at the start thought it was historical fiction. The writing is very good, and that alone makes it a good book for me. I am almost strictly a reader of fiction but the history of this time in America and the grandiosity of the Chicago World's Fair was interesting and held my attention in the slower parts.
I enjoyed the last few chapters the most, the ones about how vast the murders were, the way that psychopaths think and live in and around others to learn how to behave as a others do if only to become a master at manipulation and deception.
Good book, better on audio I bet, interesting historically. Great writing.

 
  "" by fastaxion (see profile) 12/22/15

 
  "The Devil in the White City" by pattea25 (see profile) 02/10/16

This book was non-fiction and very informative about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. I learned all about the planning, designing and building of it and was awe struck by how much was accomplished in a time without all the machinery and technology that we have today. The story re the murderer who was honing his craft during this time could have been a book all to itself. The two stories didn't quite mesh in my opinion and there was an awful lot of technological info re architecture that was at times dull. Some members put the book down but I am very happy that I read it.

 
  "" by peojudy (see profile) 02/11/16

 
  "so much I didn't know" by vvesper (see profile) 08/11/16

Normally, the most interesting part of this book for me would have been the killer. Well, that part was interesting, but I was simply blown away by the exposition itself. I really had no idea of the scale and the drama of it. There were so many details about it that were just "Wow!" moments. So interesting!!

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/10/17

Erik Larson is not an historian but a speculator. He writes as fact what no one alive witnessed. Also, the story of a 19th century psychopath is a subject matter that doesn't interest me. We have plenty of current day sickos who's lives don't interest me either of whom I could have not enjoyed reading about instead! I prefer fiction, but also enjoy non-fiction written by real historians. There's so many great books and so little time. To read this book is to squander precious time.

 
  "" by britchie (see profile) 06/30/17

 
  "" by ladydiphil (see profile) 07/06/17

 
  "" by paintbabe (see profile) 08/11/17

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/16/17

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/17/17

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/04/17

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/04/17

 
  "" by GaleMoore (see profile) 11/12/17

 
  "" by jsvincent (see profile) 11/30/17

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/15/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/04/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/11/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/27/18

 
  "" by djbrass (see profile) 05/09/18

 
  "" by EGarrandes (see profile) 05/28/18

 
  "" by carrielynne26 (see profile) 06/12/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 07/16/18

 
  "" by TammyCar (see profile) 07/18/18

 
  "well written" by jcjwalbye (see profile) 08/03/18

average rating by our group was 8.5 out of 10

 
  "" by kape747 (see profile) 08/09/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/16/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/20/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/28/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/04/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/06/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/24/18

 
  "" by gypsykim (see profile) 11/17/18

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/09/19

 
  "Way too detailed" by dnazelrod (see profile) 01/28/19

Too many details about the fair. I didn't need to know the name of every single plant they used in the creation of it, etc. Could've been half as long. Would've been more interesting. I didn't bother to finish.

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/01/19

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/07/19

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/09/19

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/17/19

 
  "" by Audreya411 (see profile) 07/23/19

 
  "" by abbymarie330 (see profile) 08/06/19

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/28/19

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/18/19

 
  "" by hvanack (see profile) 12/29/19

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/04/20

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/14/20

 
  "" by laureensa (see profile) 01/19/20

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/30/20

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/18/20

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/29/20

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/14/20

 
  "" by Kathy Peterson (see profile) 05/22/20

 
  "" by krilljack (see profile) 07/04/20

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/06/20

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/18/21

 
  "" by williams47 (see profile) 02/08/22

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/24/22

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/23/23

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/23/23

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the murders with the exposition. This book was so well researched, and the many pieces of “Americana” in our common lore today that originated in the exposition was surprising!

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/16/23

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/12/23

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/29/23

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/09/24

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/06/24

MEMBER LOGIN
Remember me
BECOME A MEMBER it's free

Now serving over 80,000 book clubs & ready to welcome yours. Join us and get the Top Book Club Picks of 2022 (so far).

SEARCH OUR READING GUIDES Search
Search


FEATURED EVENTS
PAST AUTHOR CHATS
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...