The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Devil White CityFor January the Book Club read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Larson tells the spellbinding (not my word!) true story of two men, an architect and a serial killer, whose fates were linked by the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, a “world’s fair” held in 1893.

Lynne: I have only read two thirds of the book. I feel like I’m watching Dateline: they tell you something, then there is a commercial and then you come back and they tell you again. It is neat to learn about the World’s Fair. A lot of what they are experiencing is “ho hum” to us now, think about when it was all new. Elevators, Ferris wheel, electricity. The book is interesting and enjoyable. I will finish it. Rate so far: 3.o

Paula: I haven’t finished the book yet. It seems like it is going to take them forever to build the fair. I haven’t reached the part where they have opened the fair yet. I think the story is interesting: the description of the building, what they had to surpass to get it buil. Like the water, the land, the number of people who died. I never realized a lot of these things about Chicago. That solid ground was so far down, divers got the bends The building material was jute and plaster. Because it was quick. It sounded like a nasty place to live – the smoke, the dirt, the pollution, the vice. People would just disappear. The character, Holmes, was unbelievably diabolical. I haven’t read that many books about psychopaths. I do know people who read it who thought it was phenomenal. It seems kind of gimmicky to bounce back and forth between the two stories. Rate: 3.0.

Connie: This book didn’t necessarily connect with me. I finished it, but I skipped a lot. I would give it a good rating because of the research – it is a technical achievement. The part that fascinated me was that my mother grew up in Chicago. Her family immigrated in 1906. My mother told lots of stories, but never talked about the World’s Fair. To read about all that work and they never even intended the buildings to last, by the time my mother was around they were gone. To me it was not a riveting book, the way that it was written – you know – then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. At first the killer interested me, but then I got sick of that part. The point of the book is how he [Larson] is juxtaposing how these two things were going on. The gilded age, the promise of what America could be, and then half way through a bloody war, then the rise of the industrialist and the guilded age. Through capitalism people can get really rich, while others are really poor. But it is all surface – all you have to do is chip at it and then your realize it isn’t golden. In this story you have this killer who looks for vulnerability, and juxtaposed with that there are people who did make a lot of money. I think about how my mother was so proud of Chicago. She saw someone gunned down in the street, but there was still this pride in the city. This book had the pure idea of art and creation which could be so good, but only beautiful for a moment, fleeting, All the potential along with the ugliness. Rate: 4.0

Gloria: I didn’t like the book and I didn’t finish the book. It was very boring. I got very confused with the murder stuff, made me wonder what the book was about. Too much information, too much detail. I would finish it if I didn’t have anything else to read. I read the reviews and it got good reviews, but it was not the book for me. Rate 1.0

Robin: Non-fiction, what more can I say. Yes, well written. Yes, I fell asleep every four pages. I struggled to read this, had to keep at it because I had the library copy and I knew others would be waiting for it. Too many names, too many facts, too much political hoo-du-ra. I felt like Larson manipulated facts in his story. I looked things up because I wanted to know more about them and the information was not the same as what he wrote. For example, the history of the pledge of allegiance. Slight differences, but important. So I didn’t trust what he was saying. I guess if you are the type of person interested in history and name dropping, you might like this book. But for me? Ho-hum. Rate: 1.5


  1. Thanks for sharing all of your reviews. Howard read the book and enjoyed for the historical part but barely remembers the part about the killer. He only recommends it for those interested in Chicago’s history. I think this is one for me, that can be a miss with ease. There are too many other good books out there. Again, thanks for all the comments. It is interesting to read reviews on same book by different readers.

Speak Your Mind