Review of “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

27 Jun

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one.  The Devil in the White City is hardly a new release, but ever since a friend recommended it, it’s been in the back of my mind to check out and read.  So, when I decided I needed a break from all the thrillers I’d been reading, I picked up this non-fiction book.  Which ended up reading like a fictional novel and having all the twists and turns and hair-raising moments as a proper thriller.  Rarely do I read a piece of non-fiction that is so engrossing and real.  Larson wraps you up in his story, which is equal parts magical and utterly creepy.  He tells two parallel stories – one resembling the other only in that they happened at the same time and in the same place.  The Devil in the White City tells the story of the World’s Fair that took place in Chicago in 1893.  This momentous event served as the backdrop for a series of murders perpetrated by a charming psychopath named H.H. Holmes.  The story is so interesting because it is one of contrasts.  You see the immense struggle good men like Daniel Burnham, the Fair’s organizer, faced in readying Chicago for the Fair, which required years of planning, building, and then building again when disasters such as wind, death, and fire struck.  That the Fair happened at all is amazing; that it was such a stunning success is almost impossible to believe.  Reading this book made me wish I had been there to see it all in the flesh.  However, to be a young girl there at the time was a bit scary, especially if you came under the influence of Holmes, who lured many women to his mansion just blocks from the Fair and killed them in any number of ways.  In sharp contrast to Burnham and other Fair organizers, Holmes devoted his life to manipulation, deceit, and murder.  These events happened shortly after Jack the Ripper terrorized London, so citizens and law enforcement officers were just starting to come to terms with a world where people killed for fun, with none of the traditional motives.  So much was changing in the world – banks were failing, skyscrapers were being built, the idea of labor was evolving.  The Fair was responsible for the debut of many products commonplace today, including the zipper, Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jacks, and of course, the Ferris Wheel.  What a fascinating time in our history!  Some stories just beg to be told, and Larson does a wonderful job in bringing this one to life.


Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Review of “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

  1. Jodi

    June 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I love Erik Larsen’s work. He is right up there with John Berendt in making real life read like a blockbuster movie. Have you read Larsen’s latest, “In the Garden of Beasts”? It is on my TBR list!

    • azlelib

      June 27, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      It’s on my list, too! I plan to read it after I finish the one I’m reading now. So many books, so little time 🙂

  2. Nancy Cozad

    June 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    It was a great read. I remember my Grandmother talking about going to the Chicago Worlds Fair.

    • azlelib

      June 27, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      Nancy, that’s so neat! I hope she wrote down her experiences. That would have been a once-in-a-lifetime event.


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