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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America [ THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: MURDER, MAGIC, AND MADNESS AT THE FAIR THAT CHANGED AMERICA ] by Larson, Erik (Author) Feb-10-2004 [ Paperback ] Unknown Binding – 10 Feb 2004

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  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,069,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Read the first page
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4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stijn Kelchtermans on 23 Oct. 2007
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Clarence T. Henry on 27 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
This extraordinary portrayal of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is told through the lens of its famous architect, Daniel H. Burnham, and its infamous opportunist, H.H. Holmes. These two men left an indelible mark on the World’s Fair. Burnham’s vision was expansive and lives through these pages. It’s quite amazing to realize people like Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and others were there at the same time. The story of Holmes is equally fascinating. How he was able to dispose of the bodies, swindle people out of their money, and get away with murder for so long illustrates his clever understanding of late 19th century’s social norms. The decision to tell the tale of the World’s Fair through the lives of these two men is flawless. My only criticism is that I wish there were more pictures in the book. I wanted to see the Ferris wheel and people enjoying the different parts of the fair.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By I. Curry VINE VOICE on 8 Sept. 2005
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 naïve 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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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo TOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 Aug. 2007
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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