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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

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Scott Brick

15 Hours 3 Minutes

Random House (Audio)

October 2002

Audio Book Summary

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 twentieth 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, D.C. 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. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

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From the Hardcover edition.

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  • Matthew Rioux

    Great book about a great city!

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  • Josie Sturdivant

    Loved the book and it's history. Audio is the way to go made our road trip perfect!

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  • Natalie Magleby

    I tried reading this book and had a hard time staying engaged. Much better having it in audio. Lots of interesting facts and well read.

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  • Ariel Burton

    I enjoyed reading the book but enjoyed it even more so having it read to me.

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  • Lyndsey Craig

    Very interesting read--particularly for those familiar with the Chicago area. Learned a lot about the history of the city and landmarks I pass by each day. The narrator really makes it!

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  • LaMarr Anderson

    Interesting story of the history for 1893's Chicago World's Fair. My prior knowledge of this history was non-existent so I found it a very worthwhile history lesson. Even learned how our now standard carnival Farris wheel came about! The interwoven parallel story of evil was sobering and saddening, but added intrigue for continued reading. At the end, there was unnecessarily gory descriptions and narrative. The narration was great! Bottom interesting book but is not at the upper end of my list of recommended books.. .

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  • mommyangelpink

    Excellent history of the Chicago Fair and the evil lurking so close by. Great research.

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  • jennifer jones

    Interesting subject matter and deeply researched by the author as evidenced in the minutiae of details. Trying to figure out the tie between the story of the world fair and the murders that took place in and around the same time period, as that was the only relationship. Gave up many times, but finished it so I could learn of final judgment of Holmes. A very challenging story to get through. I enjoyed the narrator. If you are into a detailed account, I.e., down to the last details of the world fair hospital and an accounting of what illnesses and how many cases of said illnesses, and like details- you will love this book.

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  • Frank Hoffman

    We listened to this book on our way from to Tampa and throughout our time in Tampa. It was gripping, entertaining, and unnerving all at once. The historical backdrop of the Columbian Exposition (the World's Fair) of 1893 in Chicago was fascinating, particularly for a born Chicagoan from the South Side. I spent a lot of time in my youth traveling to and enjoying Jackson Park and the Midway. The juxtaposition of the lead up to the decision for Chicago to be awarded the Fair, and its development, while listening to the dreadful exploits of Holmes was mind-boggling. Both stories running parallel to each other kept us waiting for the the next part of the story. Well written!

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  • alban flores

    This book was well written and investigated historically. sure it was in detail but I think that is what makes this very interesting having been in Chicago many many times it gives you great appreciation of the places talking about. on my next short trip there which is only an hour away I'll look at Jackson Park and the the Museum of Science and Industry in a new light. this story is great for people like myself who are into history.

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