The Devil In The White City by Eric Larson

When Daniel Hudson Burns was asked to oversee the architecture and development of the World’s Fair, Burns seen this as a way to really make a name for himself.  Painstakingly he hired and fired… working hard to get it right to create what would put Chicago on the map… an amazing attraction to celebrate the anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America that would draw people to it from all over the world.

Not too far from the fairs planned location was H.H. Holmes.  Holmes had a dark side that was easily masked by his piercing blue eyes, pleasant demeanor, fine style of dress, and Holmes just had an uncanny way with people.  Holmes was a swindler, and a murderer, and actually created a home (later known as the Murder Castle) that was designed to trap people, and hide the bodies – or in some cases, Holmes would plant the bodies of those he had killed so they would be found and be seen as having had an “accident.”  As many of these people had trusted Holmes, he had taken out insurance policies on them as “family members” and would collect once the bodies were recovered.

While Burns worked at creating the famous Fair, Holmes made plan of how he would lure people from the fair into his many traps….

Told in alternating chapters between the making and creating of the World’s Fair, and the coinciding happenings that surrounded the man named Holmes, this non fiction read will capture you and not let you go.  This well written books reads like a smoothly flowing fiction book, but the fact is – it is not fiction.

I poured over the pages of this book as you could almost feel the tension churning…. first the start of the fair, then over to Holmes as he makes his way into peoples hearts (I am reminded of Jeffrey Daumer), then back to what is happening with the fair, the architecture, the details – all make for fascinating reading.  Did you know the first Ferris wheel was built at this fair?

Chicago newspaper with layout of Holmes "murder castle" as it became to be known. Designed with secret rooms, an air tight vault with gas injection and a shoot that led to a basement filled with lye.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.  When I was first introduced to this book last month during book club I was amazed I had never heard of this true story of murder and mayhem surrounding the Chicago World Fair.  In fact, honestly… I knew little of the fair.  Upon reading this book and taking a survey of our book club – no one in our group had heard of the missing people surrounding the fair or the man called Holmes.

Each car held 60 people...a total capacity of 2,160 riders at a timer the man called Holmes.

But before you set your creep factor on high, know that there is more to this book than the spooky Mr. Holmes with the killer looks… and apparently, killer instincts. 

The historical facts in this book are … well, amazing.  If you have never read up on the Chicago World fair there is so much more than meets the eye.  This fair was responsible for new architectural creations never heard of prior.    The first Cracker Jacks were at the fair, also new was Aunt Jemima pancakes, Juicy Fruit Gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Shredded Wheat… also The Pledge Of Allegiance is known to have its first recital here at the fair, having been written earlier this same year.

I really could go on and on about what this book offers.  Erik Larson has written this so well that it never feels heavy with the Holmes dealings weaving in and out of the progress of the fair.  The chapters flow smoothly between the two story lines and it never felt choppy.  Once into the book, I had a hard time putting it down. I look forward to giving Eric Larson’s book In The Garden Of Beasts.Actual ticket to the fair

The book will capture those who enjoy a good murder mystery, it will also hold those who like history.  In the end, I really found this book to be one I enjoyed immensely, highly recommend and will remain on the keeper shelf. 

*Note that this book is due to come out as a movie in 2012/2013 starring Leo DiCaprio as Holmes.  While the book really is about the fair and Holmes is a secondary story… I believe the movie will reverse this and make Holmes the prime story line. 


Amazon Rating

Goodreads review

Movie thoughts:

The 2011 WHERE Are you Reading map has been updated to include The Devil In The White City

I purchased this book at Amazon

Bookies rated this read a solid 4 (on a  scale of 1 -5)

About Sheila (Book Journey)

Bookaholic * Audio Book Fan *Bike Rider *Rollerblader *Adventure Seeker *Runner*Coffee lover *Fitness Fan * Movie junkie

Posted on August 11, 2011, in Book Review, Bookies Review and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. I’m so glad I read your review, Sheila! This is not a book I would normally pick up on my own–the cover just doesn’t do it for me. But after your great review, I am adding it to my TBR list.

    I guess it’s really true–you can’t judge a book by its cover! LOL

  2. This book was a huge sensation here in Chicago when it was first published. I keep saying I’m going to read it and I still haven’t. I keep looking for a copy at the many library sales I go to but never can find one. Apparently no one wants to part with their book.

  3. Wow that murder castle really does creep me out….seriously. I like “haunted houses” and those scary mazes where people and things pop out at you to freak you out. And that ferris wheel looks amazing! I’ve never been on such a big one before…2,160 riders?? Wow!

    • Exactly Sharry – there are a lot of stories on line about it that will extra creep you out!

      The Ferris wheel is so awesome not only for the sheer size, but also the fact that it was the first!

  4. This sounds so good, and I MUST read it before the movie comes out, LOL!! I never thought anything about the book until my husband and I went to Chicago for the first time last year and now I’m super interested in it.

  5. So glad you liked this. It’s one of my favorite books of his and his others are great reads too. I loved the detail you went into with your review! I hadn’t seen the picture of Holmes’ house before.

  6. Yes! That’s exactly why I like it. Another of his books, Isaac’s Storm is my second favorite and while it’s history it’s far from boring.

  7. It just breaks my heart that most world’s fair buildings are dismantled after the fairs. Actually, in one of my favorite books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, one of the most poignant love scenes takes place inside an abandoned structure from the NY World’s Fair. What could be more romantic (except of course a nonabandoned structure…)?

  8. I have had this one for so very long, and I really need to read it. Every review I’ve read tells me I would love this.

  9. Sounds like a fascinating read full of really interesting facts, thanks for sharing this with us.

  10. Glad you liked this one! I’m really excited about the movie.

  11. I was fascinated by this book and I’m so happy Leonardo DiCaprio is going to play Harry Holmes. He and Johnny Depp are like chameleons the way they get into the character. Leo will be super.

  12. I had no idea there would be a film adaption! I think DiCaprio will be very interesting. Can’t wait to see it!

  13. A friend of mine told me about this book a few months ago. After her review and the reviews on here I might have to put it to the top of my list.

  14. Loved, loved, LOVED this book! I became a huge fan of Erik Larsen after reading this, and most especially, of non-fiction. When I heard Leonardo DiCaprio would be in the movie and playing the role of H.H. Holmes, I was beyond thrilled – it will be interesting to see how he does it. Such a creepy story.

  15. Oh, I loved this book! And I hadn’t heard about the movie – so excited for that!

  16. I want to read this — saving it for my next trip to Chicago!

  17. My husband and I both really loved this book, too. And I gave it to my brother-in-law for Christmas – he’s a high school history teacher, so of course he loved it!

    I agree it was absolutely fascinating. I had no idea they were making a movie of it! Interesting…and very unusual for a nonfiction book!


  18. This is one of my favorite non-fiction reads…it reads like a novel of suspense!

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