The Devil In The White City Book Summary By Erik Larson

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

The Devil in the White City (2003) is an amazing book that takes readers back to 1890s Chicago.

It explores the time of growing city, hosting the World’s Fair, as well as social unrest and terrible crime going on in the city.

The book details both inspiring American innovation and the cruel acts committed by one of the world’s worst serial killers.

All together, this book paints a vivid picture of life during this turbulent era that can bring readers right into its pages.

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

Author(s): Erik Larson

Rating: 3.9/5

Reading Time: 11 Minutes

Categories: Book Summaries

Author Bio

Erik Larson is a master storyteller who has written for the Wall Street Journal, Time and other notable publications.

His books are known for drawing readers in with gripping storylines, such as In the Garden of Beasts and Dead Wake.

His latest novel, The Devil in the White City, takes readers back to 1893 Chicago in order to examine a series of murders that took place during the Exposition Universelle world's fair.

With this novel, Larson explores themes of greed, ambition and human depravity in an intriguing way that will surely draw audiences from all walks of life.

Unveiling The Dark Secrets Of The Windy City: How The Chicago World’S Fair Brought Out Humanity’S Worst

Reading The Devil in the White City brings you back to turn-of-the century Chicago, one of America’s third-largest cities that has been immortalized by songs and movies.

How did this midwest city realize such fame? In the nineteenth century, it was host to the World’s Columbian Exposition, a grand fair that drew visitors from every corner of the globe.

This event put Chicago on the map and left its lasting effects on everything from its skyline and demographics to language.

Traveling back in time with The Devil in the White City gives insight into why Chicago is known as “The Windy City” (hint: it has nothing to do with wind!), which legendary brands were launched at this iconic fair, and how horrendous acts of evil transpired during this period – making history as the home of arguably America’s first serial killer.

Experience Chaos And Change In The Crime-Ridden Streets Of 1890S Chicago

At the close of the nineteenth century, the streets of Chicago were a volatile and dangerous place.

The city was plagued by numerous deaths caused by locomotives, fires that quickly engulfed wooden shanties, and unhealthy water contaminated with bacteria like cholera and typhus.

Buildings were lined with trash and infested with rats and flies, while piles of dead animals lay frozen in ice during winter months or bloated in the stifling heat of summer.

Additionally, crime rates in the city were reaching alarming highs – an average of four murders per day.

What’s more, social changes resulting from women entering the workforce meant more single women travelling alone around the streets of this turbulent city.

Without trained police forces to protect against violance, vice and general mayhem ran rampant through Chicago.

It is no wonder that this served as such an interesting backdrop for Erik Larson’s historical novel ‘The Devil in the White City.’

Chicago’S Windy Pride Led To Selection As Host Of The 1893 World’S Columbian Exposition

When it came down to deciding which city should host the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1889, America had three contenders to choose from: New York, Washington and Chicago.

Every one of these cities was eager to showcase the best of what America had to offer and prove itself on a world stage.

But it was ultimately Chicago that won the vote of Congress in 1890, outdoing its rivals and landing itself the honor of hosting this monumental event.

Certainly, their citizens did not lack confidence; they proudly boasted of their City, so much so that their proud words earned it the nickname ‘Windy City.’

And despite its turbulent reputation of corruption and violence in the late 19th century, Chicago still emerged as the successful victor.

With great faith in their city, officials knew they had a huge project ahead —creating an entire city within a single existing city.

But thanks to coveted winning bid, their ambitious goal eventually came true.

Daniel Burnham’S Triumphant Overcoming Of Challenges To Complete The White City At The Chicago World’S Fair

From the get-go, Daniel Burnham’s job of heading the fair’s construction was a daunting one.

The US economy was struggling and the budget for the project was tight, leaving Burnham having to lay off workers in order to cut costs.

unfortunately, this led to dangerous working conditions for those who did work on it, with many losing their lives in the process.

Chicago risked becoming a mirror of the negative aspects of modern industrialization and the socio-economic division it had caused.

Despite these issues, Burnham managed to open the fair on time in 1893 – a testament to his sheer determination and hard work in getting it built despite all odds.

His neoclassical facades were painted an impressive white that gave The White City its iconic name.

Chicago celebrated as they welcomed visitors from around the world to experience something new and extraordinary!

The World’S Columbian Exposition: Showcasing Glamour, Innovation And The Birth Of The Pledge Of Allegiance

The World’s Columbian Exposition was a runaway success filled with innovative new inventions and star-studded attendees.

It welcomed 27.5 million visitors during its six months, with one day seeing an estimated 700,000 people turn out in awe of its glamorous beauty.

Exciting developments included the first clothing zipper, a fully-electric kitchen and an automatic dishwasher, gum, popcorn and beer making their debut on the market – not to mention 22,000 pounds of cheese!

Attendees were mesmerized by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’s wheel that was so impressive it seemed to be competing with the Eiffel Tower!

Meanwhile, distinguished guests such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla gathered together while Theodore Dreiser honored what Richard Harding Davis called “the greatest event since the Civil War”.

On top of all that excitement lay the first recitation of what is now known as the Pledge of Allegiance by millions around the world today.

Certainly enough for anyone to call this feat an unbelievable achievement!

The Horror Of Chicago: The Legacy Of America’S First Serial Killer

At the same time that the 1893 World’s Fair was giving Chicagoans a source of pride and joy, the city was made more dangerous.

Henry Howard Holmes was lurking in plain sight, taking advantage of those who visited his hotel during the fair to take their money and, ultimately, their lives.

He appeared as a charming and handsome innkeeper, but in reality he was a conman and psychopath with deadly intent.

Working with his associate Benjamin Pitezel at the World’s Fair, Holmes built what was essentially a death trap disguised as an inn.

He had gas pipes installed in rooms so he could silently asphyxiate his guests and soundproof basements where others could suffocate while hanging in custom “hanging rooms”.

He even dissected these victims after their demise, stripping them of skin and organs – all for sale to universities and hospitals.

While all of this horror occurred at the same time as the World’s Fair festivities were taking place nearby, it went largely unnoticed.

Unfortunately for Chicagoans, this meant that Holmes’ reign of terror continued unchecked for nearly a decade until police entered his apartment in 1895 to uncover true horrors like vats containing human remains such as 18 ribs from a child’s torso as well as kilns used for burning bodies and dissection tables.

It is believed that Holmes killed between 20-200 people during his aforementioned decade-long campaign, leading to widespread relief when he found guilty of murder in 1895 — subsequently executed in 1896.

It goes without saying that the World’s Fair did nothing to curb the brutal violence experienced by those living in Chicago, something Henry Howard Holmes brought shamefully into the spotlight during such impressive festivities.

Wrap Up

The Devil in the White City is an incredible, jaw-dropping story of murder, deceit, and ambition.

Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair and the city’s burgeoning industrial era, this book paints a vivid picture of a society on the brink of transformation.

At its center is a seemingly mild-mannered man driven by an obsession with killing that resulted in him becoming known as America’s first serial killer.

This fascinating examination of how one man’s inhuman acts managed to thrive in such an otherwise vibrant environment serves as a dour reminder that darkness can find its way into any situation.

The Devil in the White City offers readers a captivating look at how two extremes could exist side-by-side with one another during an age of unprecedented progress.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.