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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 0 Minutes

Random House (Audio)

October 2002

Audio Book Summary

In The Devil in the White City, the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

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. 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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  • Anonymous

    Very good story. Gave a side and insight to history that is never seen.

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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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  • 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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  • Anonymous

    I missed the trees for the forest. Loads of good detail that I couldn’t get into because I felt the structure of the parallel narratives, going back and forth, was too annoying.

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  • Kathleen S.

    I found this pat of our history fascinating. All the great Americans who came together to transform Chicago and show off the things that where coming in the new century. The murderer interwoven was a lift to the fairs story. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Sabrina B.

    Really not my favorite at all.

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  • Jennifer T

    It wasnt what I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it all the same. The story of the logistics of the fair was drawn out too much, and while the events of the fair and the serial killer were simultaneously happening, the details surrounding the killings got lost in the details of the fair.

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  • Quinn K

    This book was false advertising. I thought it would be a suspenseful novel about murder, scandal and secrets and instead it was literally a 15 hour novel about building a fair. The overwhelming majority of the novel was about architecture. I loved the potential of this book but it didn’t deliver and was a waste of time.

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  • Alicia M

    It was fun to hear about the historical architecture of the world\'s fair but I thought it was going to be more of a novel style book and a thriller. Instead it was someone reading me a history book.

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  • Michelle S

    A very long and drawn out book that seems more focused on the erection of The World Fair and it's many plans and developments as it is a "thriller" . Still interesting but not great.

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