MCPL logo

Marathon County Public Library

Skip Navigation

The Devil in the White City

Cover: 'The Devil in the White City '

Staff Review: "The Devil in the White City " by Erik Larson


The author Erik Larson (also of In the Garden of the Beasts), gives a detailed account of the creation of the World's Fair held in Chicago at the end of the 19th century.   The "White City" is the idealized, created city that provided a figurative and literal shape to the fair . The book spends considerable time discussing, in factual detail, how the Chicago World's Fair came to be. In the book, we learn about  the intimate details of this truly spectacular event, including soliciting all the best architects and builders across the country to join creative forces to bring it into being.   We learn about the creation of the fair, the operation of the fair, and it's end in exacting detail. In a age before Superbowls, Disneyland, trips to outer space and people easily bored,  the Chicago World's Fair aimed to amaze with the first "Ferris" wheel and other sites to behold ...and amaze it did!

Along with the World's Fair, the story line takes a darker turn. Interwoven into the plot is the true tale of a one of America's first documented serial killers, H.H. Holmes.  While the White City glowed, the dark underbelly of Chicago and humanity contained therein is brought to light by the author.  A doctor by training, Holmes coldly, methodically and with equal attention to detail as those creating the White City, creates a Hotel of Horrors near the fairgrounds. Knowing that thousands would be brought to the city to work, play and enjoy the spectacle of the fair, Holmes plans to lure, primarily young women, into his hotel, many to never be heard from again.  His chamber of horrors includes a crematorium, selling of skeletal remains (quite common at the time), a gas chamber and more, for the purpose of satisfying his psychopathic desires and urges.

Add to the above plot details, a historical account of life at the time,  a plot to assassinate a mayor, body snatchings, and a not totally flattering account of life in one of America's largest cities, and you indeed have a satisfying page turner. If you enjoy historical fiction or even a few good mysteries, then you will likely enjoy this book. 

Audience: adults | Genre: nonfiction, history

check it out more reviews