Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

by Editors


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

by Erik Larson. (Vintage Books, 2002, hardcover; 2004, paperback).

In this tale of power, deceit, and passion, Erik Larson uses turn-of-the-century Chicago as the backdrop for his illustration of the heights and depths of man. Capable of achieving feats of great beauty, Daniel H. Burnham is the architect charged with overseeing the design and construction of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893-on a nearly impossible time-line. Henry H. Holmes is a charismatic doctor, businessman and serial killer who preys on the rush of fair visitors, deceives his creditors, and nearly gets away with murder. The beauty and magical charm of Burnham’s “White City” (the fair) contrasts sharply against the increasing tension of Chicago-the “Dark City”-as it struggles against economic collapse and labor strife. Told in alternating chapters, these two stories present a clear picture of a country in the midst of turmoil and the consequences born by a world moving into the modern age.

— Reviewed by Erin Dionne