Book Review: The Devil In The White City By: Erik Larson

This book just helped to secure my admiration and love for Erik Larson’s writing and impeccable attention to detail.


By: Erik Larson
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical Fiction, Crime, True Crime, Mystery/Thriller, Biography, Architecture
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Release: February 10th 2004

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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.


I really, really enjoyed this book. Like The Girl on The Train, what captivated me about this story was it’s crime/mystery and thriller aspect expect The Devil in The White City actually tells the tale of actual events and individuals against the back drop of the late 19th century Chicago. I happened a pond this non-fiction gem around the time Erik Larson’s Dead Wake was released and I was so enthralled by the book’s concept and an excerpt I read that I decided to purchase The Devil in The White City as well so that I could read more from Larson and I could not be happier that I did.

This may not come across as enduring and complementary as I would like it to, but Larson has a way of writing layered, complexity of real facts with a plain documentary tone that masks itself as an edge-of-your-seat fluxing thrill ride.

He uses the omniscient third person perspective (at least in this book, I haven’t read Dead Wake yet) to unfold the tales of the fair, the business minds and architects behind what was possible the basic foundation of the greatest amusement park/carnival-like fair and architectural structures to ever have existed. In this story of determination, passion and vision for this life altering exposition with the life and death of a real life sinister psychopath serial killer with a determination and greedy thirst for blood and wealth.

Reading this book, there was a level of understanding of some of the most common or average landscape scenery aesthetics we spot on or around, buildings or parks today. And with it almost a feeling of nostalgia wrapped up in the pulling intrigue of these characters’ lives.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, architecture, crime/mystery/thriller type books and a long reads.

 Until the next post, guys.