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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story about great architects (and project management for dummies)
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...
Published on 23 Oct. 2007 by Stijn Kelchtermans

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Baffling and confused
The is an odd book that tells the story of the World Fair held in Chicago in 1893 and the deeds of a mass criminal - "serial killer" in today's jargon - who was active there at the time.

Apart from the fact that the killer built a hotel to profit from the Fair and lure women guests whom he would exploit and murder, there seems to be nothing in common with the...
Published 19 months ago by John Fitzpatrick


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story about great architects (and project management for dummies), 23 Oct. 2007
By 
Stijn Kelchtermans (Antwerp, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing tale of a master architect and a serial killer, 27 Feb. 2006
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Turning to the darkside in Chicago, 8 Sept. 2005
By 
I. Curry "IDC" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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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. After reproducing the menu in its entirety, Larson notes wryly that it was a wonder that the city's leading dignatories had working arteries at all. In a a similar vein Larson wonders whether the plan for an extending, pneumatic tower should have featured a bordello rather than the planned café.
It is in switching between the two stories, that of destruction and creation, building and cruelty, wonder and death that the book really wins. There is an amazing pace fashioned out of the knowledge that both stories are hurtling to vastly different end points - worldwide success for the fair and the discovery of Holmes's brutal crimes. Accompanied by the forensic eye for research and detail, a silken writing style and a story of fascinating personalities it is certain that this book is one of the best narrative histories I have had the pleasure to read. I am going to enjoy seeing if his subsequent books are as readable.
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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 "Eat. Drink. Read. Be Merrier." (All Over the US & Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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.

The book's chapters alternate between the World's Fair and the exploits of serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes. I found myself enjoying both stories, as they ran parallel throughout the book. The Herculean task of putting together the fair in record time was fascinating, and the sociopathic actions of Dr. Holmes were chilling. It made for a brilliant contrast - just when the frustrations of the Fair seemed overwhelming, the book switched to Dr. Holmes as he lured yet another young woman into his web. And just when Dr. Holmes' evil seemed too much to bear, the chapter would end and the reader would be back at the World's Fair dealing with political back stabbing, instead of Holmes' more literal variety.

I rarely read nonfiction, but this book came highly recommended to me, so I gave it a try. I'm so glad I did, too. It offers a wonderful historical perspective on Chicago and the world near the close of the 19th century. For a Chicago-area native like me, its frequent mentions of famous local names, like Burnham and Adler and Marshall Field, that still grace street signs and the sides of buildings, were an added treat. Just a brief word of warning, though: it does contain some of the dreaded "adult themes." Some of Dr. Holmes' crimes are described - although not too graphically - and they might be upsetting for "younger or more sensitive" readers.

I strongly recommend THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY to anyone who enjoys an engrossing, well-written story, whether they normally read fiction or nonfiction. In particular, if readers have a book report in school, this book should be considered. It makes history come alive.

Reviewed by: K. Osborn Sullivan
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two for one, 29 Jun. 2014
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I would recommend this book for the entertaining way that the author writes. It is two stories written in one book. The first story tells of the personalities, dreams, achievements and obstacles that all worked came together to produce Chicago's White City, an amazing International Fair that served to influence both architecture and science. The second story is the dark, sordid tale of Dr. Holmes, a serial killer who was prolific at the time the fair was held. Where the author is particularly successful is in his ability to pick out the human stories of joy and sorrow, of achievement and failure and of cooperation and conflict. Where it is less appealing is in the descriptions of the city itself, which I found a tad boring and difficult to visualise as there were next to no pictures in the book. Furthermore, the second story of Dr. Holmes, whilst interesting, does not fill enough of the book to match the story of the fair. I believe that this second story should have been told as a separate book as it feels as though the author is filling up some pages with the story. Overall, though, it makes for an entertaining and interesting read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth proves to be darker than fiction in this true crime book, 8 Jun. 2012
By 
John Milton (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Having heard the news that The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson was being adapted for the big screen, I was thoroughly intrigued by the premise behind the book after finding out that it was an account of the activities of serial killer Dr H.H.Holmes in Chicago of the late 1800's. I HAD to read this book before they made the film.

This book was most certainly a revelation to me. Not only did it reveal Chicago of the 1890's to be a murky place similar to Victorian London: dirty, full of squalor, where deprivation and criminality thrives; but also by being an ideal hunting ground for a serial killer whose crimes dwarf those of Jack the Ripper.

The real horror about this book is that this is not fiction, this is a true story, compiled from historically known facts, records, letters, commentaries and biographies. Holmes was a truly cold, devious and calculating man, whose construction of his "Murder Castle", comprised of gas chambers, hidden passageways, dissection tables, acid pits, furnaces, windowless rooms; all made up to look like a hotel, beggars belief. If I had not known that these were real events, then I would have thought it entirely implausible that someone could construct such a place in a busy city without attracting the attention of the authorities.

Larson's work here is obviously very well researched and is awash with figures from America's history who undoubtedly shaped its future and is peppered with other events that make the 1890's seem to be a brave new world with regular advances in technology and new discoveries. Larson sets a nice contrast for the reader by effectively utilising chapters to switch between the story of Burnham (the architect), showing the struggle to make the Chicago World's Fair a success; and Holmes (the killer) and the very dark world he inhabited of his own creation.

Critically, The Devil in the White City can be very fact heavy at times, rendering it dry at points. Additionally, much of the book is devoted to the tale of Burnham and his efforts, with some of the chapters on Holmes being considerably lighter; and as such, may not satisfy the reader seeking out a tome that is pure horror and/or real-life crime.

The Devil in the White City does not sit comfortably, strictly speaking, in the horror genre; but I would suggest that it is worthy of a read, especially if you are interested in true crime and have an interest in history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CHICAGO...CHICAGO...IT'S A WONDERFUL TOWN..., 8 Mar. 2012
By 
Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle) - See all my reviews
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This is an exceptionally well written, well-researched book about two events that were intertwined, the Chicago World's Fair and the crimes of a serial killer in late nineteenth century Chicago. The book is rife with period detail and highly descriptive passages that give the reader a taste of what living in Chicago was like at that time.

The book provides a fascinating look at the enormous work and planning that went into creating the Chicago World's Fair, making it into one that was truly remarkable for its time, given some of the problems that the architects had to overcome. It also provides a fascinating look into the lives of some of the key players involved in its creation.

Meanwhile, an enterprising and charismatic killer was also at work, his story being tied into that of the creation of the Chicago World's Fair itself. His story, however, is the weaker part of the book, as it lacks the detail that is evident in the other segment of the book. Still, it provides an interesting look into the life of a serial killer who seemed to go about his grisly business with impunity, as well as a look at crime, law enforcement, and the state of criminal justice in late nineteenth century Chicago.

The photographs that were included in the book are excellent and illustrative. The only problem is that there are not enough of them, as the few that are included simply make the reader desire more of them. Still, those with an appreciation of history will enjoy this work of non-fiction and look forward to reading more by this author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't start it if you're busy!, 26 April 2007
By 
M. G. Gilbert (Worcester, GB) - See all my reviews
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This looks like a novel, and indeed reads like a novel, and several times I had to check that it really is not a novel! I have never before read a factual book that cracks along at such a pace. Very easy to read, yet very descriptive.

This is the story of two men: one, perhaps the leading American architect of his time, and the second, perhaps the most terrible serial killer known at that time. The Architect, Daniel H. Burnham, had the task of creating in Chicago the largest, most visionary World's fair ever, eclipsing even the famed Paris fair of 1889. The killer, H. H. Holmes, used the attraction of the fair to lure young women to their doom. Burnham fought against beauracracy, politics and personallity clashes, to say nothing of terrible weather and the death of his business partner, to build the greatest, most beautiful exposition imaginable. Holmes cheated workmen to build a hotel and terrible torture chamber, into which he drew young women to their deaths.

I really enjoyed this book, far more than I expected to. It is difficult to put down, as the author, in the style of a novelist compels the reader to read the next page. Before reading the book, I did not even know of the Chicago Exposition of 1893, but so descriptive is the writing, that by the end I was absolutely facinated by it, so much so, that I felt compelled to learn more. Here lies the only negative aspect of the book; it has very few pictures. I found photographs of the fair on the internet, which show the most beautiful, glorious buildings which housed the exhibits, and I felt that the book lacked much in not showing them. For this reason, I knocked off a star. If a few pictures had been included, then I would definitely have awarded this with 5 stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars evocative of an era, 29 Sept. 2003
By 
This sparcely and beautifully written book transports the reader to a world of collisions. The end of the 19th century forms the setting for an (unbelievabley) true story of the chicago world fair and the serial killer who haunted it. The picture painted of the rise of modernity (litereally in the form of skyscapers) clashing with the past - creating a vaccum of naivety into which Holmes lures his victims, is so real that it in may ways echoes the unsteadyness of the world today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Baffling and confused, 1 Sept. 2013
By 
John Fitzpatrick (São Paulo, Brazil) - See all my reviews
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The is an odd book that tells the story of the World Fair held in Chicago in 1893 and the deeds of a mass criminal - "serial killer" in today's jargon - who was active there at the time.

Apart from the fact that the killer built a hotel to profit from the Fair and lure women guests whom he would exploit and murder, there seems to be nothing in common with the two events.

On one hand, we have a description of the planners, architects, engineers etc who created the Fair and, on the other, an account of the murderer's deeds.

The author makes no attempt to understand why the criminal committed such horrible murders in which the victims were usually young women and children.

He also interlaces the story with a superficial account of a mentally confused man who assassinated the mayor of Chicago during the Fair.

The book is also not very well written and, overall, is a rather baffling read.
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