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

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

 

Awards

2004 Edgar Award Winner for Best Fact Crime
2003 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction

Staff Pick

An amazing history that recounts the inconceivable events surrounding the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, Larson's tale captures a time and place that vividly come to life. The central characters in this tale are Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the construction of the fair, and H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who used the popularity of the fair for his own nefarious ends. Burnham's work at overcoming the insurmountable obstacles before completing this awe inspiring project is interwoven with chapters relating to the maniacal Holmes, whose person will keep you both captivated and haunted. Breathtakingly written, this almost unbelievable history reads like the work of a highly inventive novelist.
Recommended by Michal D., Powells.com

"I was mesmerized by this book. It was a deliciously creepy read, made more creepy for being true. Several times in the course of reading it, I had to keep reminding myself that the events really happened."
Recommended by Beth, Powells.com

Review-A-Day

"You've got to respect a book that makes you keep flipping to the back cover, double-checking that it is nonfiction. Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City seems like something from the mind of, say, Thomas Harris. But it is, in fact, true. A gruesome and gripping book....[T]he heart of the story is so good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already." Adrienne Miller, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his "World's Fair Hotel" just west of the fairgrounds — a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

Review:

"Engrossing...exceedingly well documented...utterly fascinating." Chicago Tribune

Review:

"A wonderfully unexpected book....Larson is a historian...with a novelist's soul." Chicago Sun-Times

Review:

"Another successful exploration of American history....Larson skillfully balances the grisly details with the far-reaching implications of the World's Fair." USA Today

Review:

"Vivid history of the glittering Chicago World?s Fair and its dark side." New York Magazine

Review:

"[Larson] uses language well, but has little sense of pacing or focus, perhaps because of the huge amount of material available on the fair....There is much less material available on H. H. Holmes, and Larson tells that part of the story economically." David Traxel, The New York Times Book Review

Synopsis:

The story of two men's obsessions with the Chicago World's Fair — one its architect, the other a murderer. The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others.

Synopsis:

The story of two men's obsessions with the White City Fair, one its architect, the other a murderer.

Synopsis:

A riveting account of a gruesome triple-homicide at Beekman Place in Depression Era New York, with an intriguing cast of characters including the brilliant but mentally-disturbed sculptor, Robert Irwin.

Synopsis:

Beekman Place, once one of the most exclusive addresses in Manhattan, had a curious way of making it into the tabloids in the 1930s: and#8220;SKYSCRAPER SLAYER,and#8221; and#8220;BEAUTY SLAIN IN BATHTUBand#8221; read the headlines. On Easter Sunday in 1937, the discovery of a grisly triple homicide at Beekman Place would rock the neighborhood yet againand#8212;and enthrall the nation. The young man who committed the murders would come to be known in the annals of American crime as the Mad Sculptor.

and#160;

Caught up in the Easter Sunday slayings was a bizarre and sensationalistic cast of characters, seemingly cooked up in a tabloid editorand#8217;s overheated imagination. The charismatic perpetrator, Robert Irwin, was a brilliant young sculptor who had studied with some of the masters of the era. But with his genius also came a deeply disturbed psyche; Irwin was obsessed with sexual self-mutilation and was frequently overcome by outbursts of violent rage.

and#160;

Irwinand#8217;s primary victim, Veronica Gedeon, was a figure from the world of pulp fantasyand#8212;a stunning photographer's model whose scandalous seminude pinups would titillate the public for weeks after her death. Irwinand#8217;s defense attorney, Samuel Leibowitz, was a courtroom celebrity with an unmatched record of acquittals and clients ranging from Al Capone to the Scottsboro Boys. And Dr. Fredric Wertham, psychiatrist and forensic scientist, befriended Irwin years before the murders and had predicted them in a public lecture months before the crime.

and#160;

Based on extensive research and archival records, The Mad Sculptor recounts the chilling story of the Easter Sunday murdersand#8212;a case that sparked a nationwide manhunt and endures as one of the most engrossing American crime dramas of the twentieth century. Harold Schechterand#8217;s masterful prose evokes the faded glory of post-depression New York and the singular madness of a brilliant mind turned against itself. It will keep you riveted until the very last page.

Synopsis:

Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

About the Author

Erik Larson, author of the international bestseller Isaac's Storm, has written for Harpers, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Time, where he is a contributing writer. He is a former staff writer for The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Seattle with his wife, three daughters, and assorted pets, including a golden retriever named Molly.

Table of Contents

and#160;and#160;and#160; Cast of Charactersand#160;and#160;and#160;ix

and#160;and#160;and#160; Prologue: 268 East 52nd Street, New York Cityand#160;and#160;and#160;xiii

Part I: Beekman Place

and#160;and#160;and#160; Dead Endand#160;and#160;and#160;3

and#160;and#160;and#160; Vera and Fritzand#160;and#160;and#160;7

and#160;and#160;and#160; and#8220;Beauty Slain in Bathtuband#8221;and#160;and#160;and#160;29

and#160;and#160;and#160; Sex Fiendsand#160;and#160;and#160;47

Part II: Fenelon

and#160;and#160;and#160; The Firebrandand#160;and#160;and#160;53

and#160;and#160;and#160; The Brothersand#160;and#160;and#160;62

and#160;and#160;and#160; Epiphanyand#160;and#160;and#160;69

and#160;and#160;and#160; Romanelli and Radyand#160;and#160;and#160;81

Part III: The Shadow of Madness

and#160;and#160;and#160; Depressionand#160;and#160;and#160;103

and#160;and#160;and#160; The Gedeonsand#160;and#160;and#160;110

and#160;and#160;and#160; Werthamand#160;and#160;and#160;113

and#160;and#160;and#160; Bug in a Bottleand#160;and#160;and#160;124

and#160;and#160;and#160; The Snake Womanand#160;and#160;and#160;130

and#160;and#160;and#160; Cantonand#160;and#160;and#160;138

and#160;and#160;and#160; Crisisand#160;and#160;and#160;146

Part IV: The Mad Sculptor

and#160;and#160;and#160; Bloody Sundayand#160;and#160;and#160;157

and#160;and#160;and#160; The Party Girland#160;and#160;and#160;169

and#160;and#160;and#160; Murder Sellsand#160;and#160;and#160;182

and#160;and#160;and#160; Prime Suspectand#160;and#160;and#160;203

and#160;and#160;and#160; Manhuntand#160;and#160;and#160;208

Part V: The Defender

and#160;and#160;and#160; Murder in Times Squareand#160;and#160;and#160;223

and#160;and#160;and#160; Henriettaand#160;and#160;and#160;231

and#160;and#160;and#160; The Front Pageand#160;and#160;and#160;237

and#160;and#160;and#160; Confessionand#160;and#160;and#160;243

and#160;and#160;and#160; Celebritiesand#160;and#160;and#160;248

and#160;and#160;and#160; Lunacyand#160;and#160;and#160;267

and#160;and#160;and#160; Pleaand#160;and#160;and#160;277

and#160;and#160;and#160; Aftermathand#160;and#160;and#160;291

and#160;and#160;and#160; Epilogue: The Lonergan Caseand#160;and#160;and#160;303

and#160;and#160;and#160; Acknowledgmentsand#160;and#160;and#160;309

and#160;and#160;and#160; Notesand#160;and#160;and#160;310

and#160;and#160;and#160; Bibliographyand#160;and#160;and#160;334

and#160;and#160;and#160; Indexand#160;and#160;and#160;342

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 30 comments:

BjoLiz, February 25, 2014 (view all comments by BjoLiz)
Having read this book several years ago, I got so much more out of it this time around.  On the first reading, I was absorbed in The Devil and the horrors he inflicted with zero regard for anyone but himself, a true sociopath.  In my 2nd reading, The White City captured my imagination.  What those architects, landscape artists and construction workers accomplished in so short a time was nothing short of miraculous.  I doubt it could be repeated today even with all our modern machinery and technology.  

Now, a brief word about Holmes and his despicable acts.  Although tragic, his significance was of being the first US serial killer.  Not a cherished goal for most of society,  yet I think he eagerly sought that place in history.   His powers of deception were amazing.  His killings and subsequent disposals were simple as well as elaborate.  His heart and mind were certainly of the devil.

Overall, this was a fascinating read.  Just when the tedium of the building of the White City and all the setbacks became overpowering, Larson jolted my interest back with Holmes and his myriad of atrocities.  It is a thoroughly researched and well written book surrounding a brief monumental and significant time in our history.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
BakerB, January 14, 2013 (view all comments by BakerB)
Very interesting read. Full of fascinating history, details of the World's Fair, & Chicago in its heyday, & chilling murder & mystery. Great combo!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
Waney, December 29, 2012 (view all comments by Waney)
I strongly recommend THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY to anyone who enjoys an engrossing, well-written story, whether they normally read fiction or nonfiction. In particular, if readers have a book report in school, this book should be considered. It makes history come alive.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 30 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375725609
Author:
Larson, Erik
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Author:
Schechter, Harold
Location:
New York
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
United States - 19th Century/Turn of the Century
Subject:
Serial murders
Subject:
Serial murderers
Subject:
United States - State & Local - Midwest
Subject:
Murder - Serial Killers
Subject:
World History-General
Subject:
Pathological Psychology
Subject:
history;chicago;non-fiction;true crime;architecture;murder;crime;serial killer;world s fair;mystery;fiction;19th century;chicago world s fair;american history;historical fiction;historical;biography;illinois;america;american;thriller;daniel burnham;1890s;
Subject:
history;chicago;non-fiction;true crime;architecture;murder;crime;serial killer;world s fair;mystery;fiction;19th century;chicago world s fair;american history;historical fiction;historical;biography;illinois;america;american;thriller;daniel burnham;1890s;
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage
Series Volume:
34/2003
Publication Date:
February 10, 2004
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
1 MAP; 7 HALFTONES
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1.26 lb

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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 464 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375725609 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

An amazing history that recounts the inconceivable events surrounding the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, Larson's tale captures a time and place that vividly come to life. The central characters in this tale are Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the construction of the fair, and H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who used the popularity of the fair for his own nefarious ends. Burnham's work at overcoming the insurmountable obstacles before completing this awe inspiring project is interwoven with chapters relating to the maniacal Holmes, whose person will keep you both captivated and haunted. Breathtakingly written, this almost unbelievable history reads like the work of a highly inventive novelist.

"Staff Pick" by ,

"I was mesmerized by this book. It was a deliciously creepy read, made more creepy for being true. Several times in the course of reading it, I had to keep reminding myself that the events really happened."

"Review A Day" by , "You've got to respect a book that makes you keep flipping to the back cover, double-checking that it is nonfiction. Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City seems like something from the mind of, say, Thomas Harris. But it is, in fact, true. A gruesome and gripping book....[T]he heart of the story is so good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "Engrossing...exceedingly well documented...utterly fascinating."
"Review" by , "A wonderfully unexpected book....Larson is a historian...with a novelist's soul."
"Review" by , "Another successful exploration of American history....Larson skillfully balances the grisly details with the far-reaching implications of the World's Fair."
"Review" by , "Vivid history of the glittering Chicago World?s Fair and its dark side."
"Review" by , "[Larson] uses language well, but has little sense of pacing or focus, perhaps because of the huge amount of material available on the fair....There is much less material available on H. H. Holmes, and Larson tells that part of the story economically."
"Synopsis" by , The story of two men's obsessions with the Chicago World's Fair — one its architect, the other a murderer. The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others.
"Synopsis" by , The story of two men's obsessions with the White City Fair, one its architect, the other a murderer.
"Synopsis" by , A riveting account of a gruesome triple-homicide at Beekman Place in Depression Era New York, with an intriguing cast of characters including the brilliant but mentally-disturbed sculptor, Robert Irwin.
"Synopsis" by , Beekman Place, once one of the most exclusive addresses in Manhattan, had a curious way of making it into the tabloids in the 1930s: and#8220;SKYSCRAPER SLAYER,and#8221; and#8220;BEAUTY SLAIN IN BATHTUBand#8221; read the headlines. On Easter Sunday in 1937, the discovery of a grisly triple homicide at Beekman Place would rock the neighborhood yet againand#8212;and enthrall the nation. The young man who committed the murders would come to be known in the annals of American crime as the Mad Sculptor.

and#160;

Caught up in the Easter Sunday slayings was a bizarre and sensationalistic cast of characters, seemingly cooked up in a tabloid editorand#8217;s overheated imagination. The charismatic perpetrator, Robert Irwin, was a brilliant young sculptor who had studied with some of the masters of the era. But with his genius also came a deeply disturbed psyche; Irwin was obsessed with sexual self-mutilation and was frequently overcome by outbursts of violent rage.

and#160;

Irwinand#8217;s primary victim, Veronica Gedeon, was a figure from the world of pulp fantasyand#8212;a stunning photographer's model whose scandalous seminude pinups would titillate the public for weeks after her death. Irwinand#8217;s defense attorney, Samuel Leibowitz, was a courtroom celebrity with an unmatched record of acquittals and clients ranging from Al Capone to the Scottsboro Boys. And Dr. Fredric Wertham, psychiatrist and forensic scientist, befriended Irwin years before the murders and had predicted them in a public lecture months before the crime.

and#160;

Based on extensive research and archival records, The Mad Sculptor recounts the chilling story of the Easter Sunday murdersand#8212;a case that sparked a nationwide manhunt and endures as one of the most engrossing American crime dramas of the twentieth century. Harold Schechterand#8217;s masterful prose evokes the faded glory of post-depression New York and the singular madness of a brilliant mind turned against itself. It will keep you riveted until the very last page.

"Synopsis" by , Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
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