The Devil in the White City


Author: Erik Larson

Title: The Devil in the White City

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publication Date: 2003

Number of Pages: 390

Geographical Setting: Chicago

Time Period: 1890’s

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: This book is an account of the Chicago Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) in 1893. It discusses detailed accounts of the construction and the people involved in planning it, as well as the life of serial killer Herman Mudgett and the people he preyed upon. The book is very interesting because it is a true account that is filled with historical details, but it reads like a novel. Daniel H. Burnham was the architect in charge of creating the “White City” of the fair, and had to overcome numerous obstacles to do it; even death of his business partner. Dr. Holmes (Herman Mudgett) was responsible for many murders before, during, and after the fair, and the account of his killings is very chilling and true to life. He killed between 27 and 200 people (no one knows for sure how many) and even constructed his own World’s Fair Hotel to lure victims (it had a crematorium and gas chamber). The book switches points of view from Burnham and Holmes, which works because the reader often needs a break from the psychotic Holmes chapters.

Subject Headings: Mudgett, Herman W., 1861-1896; Burnham, Daniel Hudson, 1846-1912; World’s Columbian Exposition (1893: Chicago, Ill.); Serial murderers- Chicago, Illinois; Serial murders- Chicago, Illnois- Case studies; Architects- Chicago, Illinois; Deception in men; Murders; the Nineties (19th century); Chicago, Illinois- History- 19th century

Appeal: Cinematic, complex, dramatic, historical details, investigative, compelling, dark, deliberate, suspenseful, tragic, urban, violent, vivid, historically political, multiple plot lines

3 terms that best describe this book: World’s Fair, serial killer, Chicago

Similar Authors and Works


  1. The Beast of Chicago: an account of the life and crimes of Herman W. Mudgett, known to the world as H.H. Holmes by Rick Geary- Tells the true account of the life & crimes of Holmes. It contains black-and-white artwork by the author.
  2. Jack the Ripper: the uncensored facts: a documented history of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 by Paul Begg- Tells the true story of another famous serial killer; Jack the Ripper in London.
  3. Sin in the Second City: madams, ministers, playboys and the battle for America’s soul by Karen Abbott- True history of America’s most famous brothel, the Everleigh Club in Chicago from 1900 to 1911.


  1. A Proper Pursuit by Lynn N. Austin- Violet Hayes’ mother has been missing since Violet was 9 years old, and Violet goes to the Chicago during the World’s Fair to find her.
  2. Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan- Novel about Frank Lloyd Wright, who was mentioned in The Devil in the White City.
  3. Bloody Mary by Joe Konrath- Chicago police lieutenant Jacqueline Daniels deals with her personal life while trying to track down a serial killer.

Bonus: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule- The true story of Ted Bundy, a student who was put to death for killing multiple people.


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