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Extended Audio Sample The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (160,646 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Erik Larson Narrator: Scott Brick Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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The year 1893 heralded in the World's Fair to a bustling Chicago cityscape, and with it, wonders both glorious and terrible alike. It was not only the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World, but it was the great city's chance to show how truly exceptional it was in recovering from the Great Chicago Fire nearly twenty years prior. There was an energy in the air, quite literally, with demonstrations of electricity by Thomas Edison and others. The fair also presented the first ever Ferris Wheel, as well as one of the first night football games. Architect Daniel Burnham oversaw the magnanimous construction of over 200 new buildings for the occasion, expanding the city significantly.

And while Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City touches on these exciting attractions, especially going into detail about Burnham's work, it focuses most on another first for American history at that unbelievable fair. Dr. H. H. Holmes is considered to be the United States' first recorded serial killers, having slaughtered an estimated 200 innocent lives. Holmes, a certified doctor and drugstore owner, ran a hotel that opened just in time for the World's Fair. The hotel turned out to be a labyrinthine death trap. His victims were gassed, suffocated, and even tortured. The basement was later discovered to contain various devices for torture and disposing, including a stretch rack, a dissection table, and lime. Larson's thrilling novel explores the actions of Holmes amidst the magical city-wide festival, and the 150 year old mysteries behind these awful crimes.

Erik Larson is best known for his many historical novels, such as In The Garden of Beasts (about Nazi Germany) and Thunderstruck (documenting the invention of the radio). He has also contributed to The New Yorker and Time Magazine. The Devil in the White City has received high praise, including the 2004 Edgar Award for Best Fast Crime novel.

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, DC. 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.

Download and start listening now!

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Quotes & Awards

  • “So good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already.”

    Esquire

  • “Another successful exploration of American history…Larson skillfully balances the grisly details with the far-reaching implications of the World’s Fair.”

    USA Today

  • “As absorbing a piece of popular history as one will ever hope to find.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “Paints a dazzling picture of the Gilded Age and prefigure the American century to come.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Engrossing…Exceedingly well documented…Utterly fascinating.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “A dynamic, enveloping book…Relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel…It doesn’t hurt that this truth is stranger than fiction.”

    New York Times

  • “Listeners will also be fascinated by descriptions of the sheer logistics of the fair itself, which serve as not only carefully crafted and informative history, but also as welcome breaks from the macabre and relentless contrivances of the killer. In all, it’s a polished presentation of an intriguing book that outlines the heights of human imagination and perseverance against the depths of our depravity.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “If you did not know this is a history book, you would think it a mystery novel, so skillfully does Larson weave together the story of the architect who directed the building of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the story of the psychopathic serial killer who murdered a number of those who were drawn to Chicago by the fair…Such a combination of writing skill and historical inquiry is rare indeed.”

    KLIATT

  • “Both intimate and engrossing, Larson’s elegant historical account unfolds with the painstaking calm of a Holmes murder. Although both subjects have been treated before, paralleling them here is unique.”

    Library Journal

  • “Gripping drama, captured with a reporter’s nose for a good story and a novelist’s flair for telling it.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • Winner of the 2004 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Fact Crime
  • Winner of the 2003 International Horror Guild Award for Nonfiction
  • Winner of the 2004 Washington State Book Award
  • Winner of the 2004 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award
  • Recipient of the2004 Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2003 CWA Gold Dagger for Nonfiction
  • A USA Today Bestseller
  • A #1 New York Times Bestseller
  • A 2003 National Book Award Finalist

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Kris Mehigan | 2/20/2014

    " The research that went into preparing this book was so overwhelmingly thorough that it was "almost" enough for me to stomach the gruesome details of the serial killer. Makes me very glad I lived in Chicago-land a century later! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Lauren | 2/7/2014

    " 3.5 stars. An informative, rollicking tale of the 1893 World's Fair and current events and characters during the turn of the century. It is well- researched and chocked full of fun trivia. Novel-like in its presentation, it is an easy entertaining read. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Traci | 2/1/2014

    " I did not enjoy the forced intertwining of the two stories in this book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Matthew Zulick | 1/31/2014

    " This book was what I was looking for. It opened me up to a whole new genre of books: narrative nonfiction. It has all the historically accurate facts without the dryness. "

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