Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Title: The Devil in the White City 
Author: Erik Larson 
Genre: Non-Fiction 
Format: Audiobook 
Year Published: 2003
Source: I purchased this audiobook

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America is Erik Larson’s account of The world’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893. There are so many intersecting storylines that happened during that unusual event – including a serial killer who lurked in Chicago at that time.

So many events coincided with each other – The World’s Fair was a difficult project to bring off for the architect Daniel Burnham. The project included construction of many temporary buildings – “The White City” – and included the first Ferris Wheel.

Also part of the story is the first modern serial killer in H.H. Holmes, the killing of Chicago’s mayor by an assassin in the last days of the Fair, and a deep economic depression (The Panic of ’93). 


H.H. Holmes, a trained doctor, apparently committed between 27 and 200 murders during this time period. He even built a special hotel for his victims, including a gas chamber and crematorium! Holmes’ crimes are quite gruesome and very sad. We will never know how many victims he had. Larson really makes you feel as if you know the victims (most of whom were women, but some were men and he even killed children).

I never got around to reading this book, but listened to the audio version of the book on a long trip. It is interesting to realize how different it is listening to the book, since I find reading so visual. It was a little confusing at first, because the narrative jumps around to many different characters, and I had to keep them clear in my head (in a physical book it is easier).

Tony Goldwyn has a fine speaking voice and his narration is excellent. Larson’s story is well done considering how many different personalities are involved. It is indeed amazing how so many events happened concurrently. Larson did an excellent job explaining the complicated sequences of events as they occurred.

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