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The Devil In The White City [Paperback]

Erik Larson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

1 April 2004

The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and its amazing 'White City' was one of the wonders of the world. This is the incredible story of its realization, and of the two men whose fates it linked: one was an architect, the other a serial killer.

The architect was Daniel H. Burnham, the driving force behind the White City, the massive, visionary landscape of white buildings set in a wonderland of canals and gardens. The killer was H. H. Holmes, a handsome doctor with striking blue eyes. He used the attraction of the great fair - and his own devilish charms - to lure scores of young women to their deaths. While Burnham overcame politics, infighting, personality clashes and Chicago's infamous weather to transform the swamps of Jackson Park into the greatest show on Earther, Holmes built his own edifice just west of the fairground. He called it the World's Fair Hotel. In reality it was a torture palace, a gas chamber, a crematorium.

These two disparate but driven men toegther with a remarkable supporting cast of colourful characters, including as Buffalo Bill, George Ferris, Thomas Edison and some of the 27 million others who converged on the dazzling spectacle of the White City, are brought to life in this mesmerizing, murderous tale of the legendary Fair that transformed America and set it on course for the twentieth century.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; New Ed edition (1 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553813536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553813531
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 56,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Fuses history and entertainment to give the dramatic effect of a novel... this truth really is stranger than fiction" (The New York Times)

"Erik Larson tracks [H H Holmes] with practised journalistic skill... Highly readable" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Captures the spirit of an America bursting with pioneering drive... a gripping book" (Independent on Sunday)

"Bursting with so much vitality you half expect it to jump right out of your hands" (Yorkshire Evening Post)

"An irresistible page-turner that reads like the most compelling, sleep defying fiction" (Time Out)

Book Description

Chicago, 1893. One man built a heaven on earth. Another built hell beside it.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
The book tells the story behind the World Fair in Chicago in 1893. It alternates between two story lines: the one of the serial killer Holmes, and the one of the organizers of the fair with the architect Daniel Burnham as the protagonist. It is very well researched - see the impressive list of references at the back - which was a major attraction point for me. The author even clarifies which of the (few) elements in the story were unverifiable and thus pure fiction. Scientists will love this. The underlying research never gets in the way of the story though (hooray).

I was captivated by the look behind the scenes: how the Chicago won the organization of the fair, the subsequent delays in setting up an organizing team and the disasters during the building of the Fair's buildings and exhibitions. It shows how even those to be considered the best in their field don't realize major achievements without their deal of stress and problem solving (and being extremely pragmatic when deadlines come close). In fact, this book is a must-read for project managers and entrepreneurs alike.

As far as the killings of Dr. Holmes are concerned, a Belgian cannot help but see the striking parallels with the Dutroux case about 100 years later, such as building a house specifically designed to kill unnoticedly (remember Dutroux' cellar where he hid the little girls). Also the debate on the faulty functioning of the police force in the aftermath of the killings bears a close resemblance to the Belgian case. Some things never change.

If you're interested in Chicago, architecture and want to read an upbeat story on how sound ambition leads to landmark achievements (& how it doesn't come easy), read this book.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too 13 Aug 2007
By TeensReadToo TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In 1893, Chicago was gearing up for its shining moment on the international stage. The city had been selected to host the World's Fair, beating out New York and a number of other American contenders. A prominent local architect, Daniel Burnham, had taken the reins to organize and construct the massive project. He assembled a dream team of architects, landscapers, engineers, and other professionals to help pull the fair together. Certainly Chicago could outdo the Paris Fair, which had been a worldwide success years earlier.

Unfortunately for Burnham and his team, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Due to a lack of organization and bickering among the committees responsible for the fair, construction began far later than it should have. Partially completed buildings blew over and burned down. Union workers threatened strikes. One sideshow act showed up a year early, while another (which was believed to be made up of cannibals) killed the man sent to retrieve them and never showed up at all. And there was a monster on the loose. A man who used the chaos of Chicago at this time in history to conceal the murders of dozens of people - many of them young, single women. A man who constructed a building with stolen money, then used the building as a slaughterhouse to lure, kill, and dispose of his victims.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is a terrific book. It is nonfiction, but it reads like a novel. The real-life details of this story seem almost too bizarre to be true, yet this is one example of the old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction." The author, Erik Larson, even includes a lengthy section at the back where he documents his facts and explains his suppositions.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Turning to the darkside in Chicago 8 Sep 2005
By I. Curry VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A hugely enjoyable, readable and informative book on a subject that would not necessarily sell itself from the bookshelves.
The Devil in the White City is a history of the bidding, creation and construction of the Chicago World Fair 1893, the Columbine Festival in honour of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the new world. Much attention was focused on the largest cities in the USA as they vied for the honour of hosting the world fair. In the end Chicago is victorious, and the city elects one of its own most successful sons to be the lead architect.
On the dark side on this balanced, Tao-like book is the story of Dr H.H. Holmes. This gentleman has the dubious honour of being America's first recorded serial killer. His 'career' mirrored the construction at the world fair, and of course took place just a stones throw from the festival's building site. It reached its apogee as the country's attention was focused on Chicago, and the details would shock a still nave country.
Erik Larson is a spectacularly lucid writer. One imagines that whatever he turns his pen to will come out as gold plated as this. Whilst it might seem that the machinations over the building of a world fair over 100 years ago would not survive as a matter of interest, Larson proves that a book is as interesting as the person telling the story. Larson uses key historical details, diaries, letters, weather reports and newspapers to evoke a complete world and bygone age. He tells us of the moods, health conditions and character of the people involved and even whether they would have been rained or shone on by careful dredging of meteorological records.
An example of the gloriously pleasing phraseology is his description of various meals which the worthies of the city treated themselves to.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Architecture and mass murder
I wouldn't have thought that a mix of architecture and mass murder would make for such a compelling story... I was wrong. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Matt Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Two for one
I would recommend this book for the entertaining way that the author writes. It is two stories written in one book. Read more
Published 26 days ago by LDK
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I had heard a lot of raving about this book and it clearly mesmerised a lot of people, but I wasn't among them, unfortunately. Read more
Published 1 month ago by A. Feruglio Dal Dan
4.0 out of 5 stars Super Book
This was well written superb read at the beginning .... found it got a little tedious at the end though. Glad I read it.
Published 1 month ago by Sue Wright
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, gripping throughout
This book in an exercise in contrasts. Larson draws parallels between the 'dark city' - Chicago - with its pollution, crime, destitution and everyday danger and the 'white city' -... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Bob Knapton
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
More about the worlds fair as opposed to HH Holmes and too much detail on how the world was started etc as opposed up what the book was supposed to be about
Published 4 months ago by himsher
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what it says on the tin
This is a book about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. It is well written (if a little irritating at times with its constant switching and over-use of cliffhangers) and the prose... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Annette Curtain
5.0 out of 5 stars All the Fun of the Fair...
When Chicago won the right to hold the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, there was much sneering from the snobbish elite of New York and elsewhere at the idea of this brash,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by FictionFan
3.0 out of 5 stars too much about architecture and the fair!!
I was disappointed with this book. Namely because every other chapter (sometimes more than every other) was concerned with the men who designed and built the fair (the chicago... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Emily,
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book... but why no pictures?
Devil in the white city is a very interesting book , as many other reviewers have already stated. The best part of the book is about The Chicago world fair and its architect, the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Maria.f
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