The Devil in the White City – our Leo’s in the movie!


The Blurb

Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book’s categorization to be sure that ‘The Devil in the White City’ is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

Burnham’s challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous “White City” around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair’s incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World’s Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.

My Review

You know those well worn paperbacks everyone has on their bookshelf?  The kind of book you pick up while staying away from home (maybe an AirBnB)?  This is that book.  It’s a book picked up from someone else’s bookshelf when there are hours to kill.  It’s a choice between this book and some Tom Clancey novel, so this book is chosen because it’s a standalone and you’re in the mood for a murder mystery rather than a thriller.  Well that’s how it was for me anyway.  I started to read it with no real idea of what it was going to be about, except that there might be some murder in there somewhere.  It ended up being less about the deceptive murderous Holmes and more about architecture, landscaping and all the other problems that came about while building the Chicago World’s Fair.

This book has 2 main intertwined themes, building the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago & ‘Holmes the serial killer’ building his killing vault.  I think that the author does an ok job of tying the two different threads together and writes a fairly interesting true story set in the 1890’s. 

ChicagoWorldsFair_1893My only complaint would be that I would have wanted to read less about architecture and landscaping and more about the murder’s (gee I sound grim, but that’s really what I was thinking).  I do understand that the author did not want to blatantly make anything up and only wanted to use facts to weave the story together.  There are just a lot more facts about Burnham and less about Holmes, so that’s what we hear more about during the story.

The redeeming feature of this book?  The topics of this book are perfect for a movie.  I needed to google photos while reading this book because the descriptions of the areas in the Fair were good, but it’s hard to imagine the grandios-ness of the area without seeing pictures.

I am giving this book 4.5 stars because it’s one of those books that was so out of my normal reading and had me intrigued.  Extra stars because I actually googled the Chicago World’s Fair to see photos of all the magnificent buildings and lake as well as pictures of all the main characters.  It’s very refreshing to read a true story every now and then.  In my googling I happened across the fact that there is a new movie coming out about this book (see below).  I think this book is definitely worth a read but you might be able to hang on and watch the movie instead.




The Movie

DanielBurnhamH. H. Holmes (below) is going to be played by Leo Dicaprio (sweeeeet!).   It’s still not even fully cast so I don’t know who will play Burnham (left) or if he’ll even be a big part of the movie.  I think (and hope) the movie will focus more on Holmes building his killing vault and ripping people off rather than focusing on all the problems associated with building the Worlds Fair so quickly (and there were lots of problems).  Both storylines are interesting so hopefully it will shoot back and forth between them.  I think the set for this movie will be magical, based on all the descriptions of the Chicago World’s Fair in the book and also of the reactions of the visitors.  They were all in awe of the buildings and exhibits, nobody had seen anything like it before.  As of now there’s no release date or even production date for the movie.  You can check out more movie info here on IMDB.



Buy the Book

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

Author Erik Larson
Binding Paperback
Brand Erik Larson
EAN 9780375725609
Is Adult Product 0
ISBN 0375725601
Is Eligible For Trade In 1
Label Vintage
List Price $16.95
Manufacturer Vintage
MPN 9780375725609
Number Of Items 1
Number Of Pages 447
Package Quantity 1
Part Number 9780375725609
Product Group Book
Product Type Name ABIS_BOOK
Publication Date 2004-02-10
Publisher Vintage
Release Date 2004-02-10
Studio Vintage
Title The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
UPC 884510967318


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