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

Front Cover
Crown Publishers, 2003 - History - 447 pages
678 Reviews
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.

To find out more about this book, go to

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

An amazing amount of research, and fantastic writing. - Goodreads
I found his writing style overwrought and a bit sloppy. - Goodreads
Interesting story with lots of cool factoids. - Goodreads
A well-researched book, but disappointing execution. - Goodreads
Larson's prose is riveting. - Goodreads
Enjoyable and educational - what a combo! - Goodreads

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

User Review  - Linda Doyle - Goodreads

I wish I could have enjoyed this book more. It's loaded with fascinating historical tidbits but sometimes gets bogged down by too many engineering and architectural details, kind of like sitting in a ... Read full review

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

User Review  - Paul Haspel - Goodreads

The devil, when he comes for one of us, will not appear in a sheath of red flame. There will be no odor of brimstone about him. He will not have goat's horns, or bat wings, or cloven hooves, or a long ... Read full review

All 136 reviews »

About the author (2003)

Erik Larson lives in Seattle with his wife, three daughters, a Chinese fighting fish, a dwarf hamster, and a golden retriever named Molly.

Bibliographic information