Reviews for Devil in the White City : A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair That Changed America


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 February 2003
/*Starred Review*/ Larson's ambitious, engrossing tale of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 focuses primarily on two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect who was the driving force behind the fair, and Henry H. Holmes, a sadistic serial killer working under the cover of the busy fair. After the 1889 French Exposition Universel wowed the world with the Eiffel Tower and high attendance numbers, interest began to grow in the U.S. for a similar fair. Chicago and New York were the top contenders for the location, and in February 1890, Chicagoans were overjoyed to hear they had won the honor. Burnham and his partner, John Root, the leading architects in Chicago, were tapped for the job, and they in turn called on Frederick Law Olmstead, Louis Sullivan, and Richard M. Hunt to help them build the world's greatest fair. They faced overwhelming obstacles: inhospitable weather, bureaucracy, illness, and even death. Unbeknownst to any of them, Holmes, a charismatic, handsome doctor, had arrived in the city and built a complex with apartments, a drugstore, and a vault, which he used to trap his victims until they suffocated. When the White City opened for business in May 1893, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to it, although a plummeting economy and several accidents did nothing to help business. A shocking murder concludes the ultimately successful fair, and that's before Holmes claims his final victims in the cruelest act of his career. A magnificent book. ((Reviewed February 15, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2002 November #2
A vivid account of the tragedies and triumphs of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the concurrent depravities of America's first serial killer.In roughly alternating chapters, former Wall Street Journal reporter Larson (Isaac's Storm, 1999, etc.) tells the stories of Daniel H. Burnham, chief planner and architect of exposition, and Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, whose rambling World's Fair Hotel, just a short streetcar ride away, housed windowless rooms, a gas chamber, secret chutes, and a basement crematory. The contrast in these accomplishments of determined human endeavor could not be more stark--or chilling. Burnham assembled what a contemporary called "the greatest meeting of artists since the 15th century" to turn the wasteland of Chicago's swampy Jackson Park into the ephemeral White City, which enthralled nearly 28 million visitors in a single summer. Overcoming gargantuan obstacles--politically entangled delays, labor unrest, an economic panic, and a fierce Chicago winter--to say nothing of the architectural challenges, Burnham and his colleagues, including Frederick Law Olmsted, produced their marvel in just over two years. The fair was a city unto itself, the first to make wide-scale use of alternating current to illuminate its 200,000 incandescent bulbs. Spectacular engineering feats included Ferris's gigantic wheel, intended to "out-Eiffel Eiffel," and, ominously, the latest example of Krupp's artillery, "breathing of blood and carnage." Dr. Holmes, a frequent visitor to the fair, was a consummate swindler and lady-killer who secured his victims' trust through "courteous, audacious rascality." Most were comely young women, and estimates of their total ranged from the nine whose bodies (or parts thereof) were recovered to nearly 200. Larson does a superb job outlining this "ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black."Gripping drama, captured with a reporter's nose for a good story and a novelist's flair for telling it. (6 b&w photos, 1 map, not seen)Author tour Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

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Library Journal Reviews 2003 January #1
Before the turn of the 20th century, a city emerged seemingly out of the ash of then dangerous Chicago, a dirty, grimy, teeming place ravaged by urban problems. Daniel Burnham, the main innovator of the White City of the 1892 World's Fair, made certain that it became the antithesis of its parent city, born to glow and gleam with all that the new century would soon offer. While the great city of the future was hastily being planned and built, the specially equipped apartment building of one Herman Webster Mudgett was also being constructed. Living in a nearby suburb and walking among the hundreds of thousands of visitors who would eventually attend the fair, Mudgett, a doctor by profession more commonly known as H.H. Holmes, was really an early serial killer who preyed on the young female fair goers pouring into Chicago. Using the fair as a means of attracting guests to a sparsely furnished "castle" where they ultimately met their end, Holmes committed murder, fraud, and numerous other crimes seemingly without detection until his arrest in 1894. Both intimate and engrossing, Larson's (Isaac's Storm) elegant historical account unfolds with the painstaking calm of a Holmes murder. Although both subjects have been treated before, paralleling them here is unique. Highly recommended.-Rachel Collins, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 December #3
Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac's Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of the vast fair and Holmes's relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes's co-star, architect and fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile Durkheim's Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of "articulated" corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed. 6 b&w photos, 1 map. (Feb.) Forecast: With this book, Larson builds on the success of Isaac's Storm. Anyone with an interest in American history-in particular fans of Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough-should find much to engross them here. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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