The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America | Book Review
Narrator: Tony Goldwyn
Original Publication Date: 2003 (Audiobook 2006)
Genres: Crime, Non-Fiction, History
Source: I purchased this audiobook.
The 1893 World’s Fair was held in the “White City” of Chicago, Illinois. Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the 20th century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, DC. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds – a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.
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 the city of 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.
The City Of Chicago Hosted The 1893 World’s Fair
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 the construction of many temporary buildings in the city- “The White City” – and included the first Ferris Wheel.
Also part of the story is about 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 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 Listened To The Audiobook
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.
If you liked this review, please read my thoughts on Marie: A True Story by Peter Maas.