librarymouse's review against another edition

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adventurous challenging dark emotional informative mysterious sad tense medium-paced


The literary descriptions and firsthand accounts of the fair, and the effort and love put into it's design and creation made me wish I could have attended. The detailed descriptions of Holmes' murders and his disarmingly charming personality made me glad that I was born over a full century after 1893. I like greatly enjoyed The Devil in the White City, the second half was a far easier read than the first. I'm not sure if I've retained as much of the information about the fair's designers and the events that took place while it was open as I wanted to. While interesting, the section about the initial design process and the political lobbying that took place in order to get the fair to occur in Chicago read similarly to a textbook, in stark contrast with the narrative way the rest of the history was told. Overall, an informative and interesting read. I would use enjoyable to describe the writing, but not the content.

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meganpbennett's review against another edition

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dark informative mysterious medium-paced


I read The Devil in the White City on the advice of a true crime-loving librarian colleague. It's interesting, with H.H. Holmes killing indiscriminately around during the Chicago World's Fair, though I started reading the book without realizing that H.H. Holmes was the Devil in question. 

The book has lots of interesting detail on the World's Fair - after all, how could Chicago hope to beat Eiffel and his Tower from the previous World's Fair? Enter an engineer named... Ferris. 

The book was less graphic than I thought it would be, but there is rather disturbing imagery involving Holmes killing and disposing of the bodies. 

I think the book would have been stronger had the author not switched perspectives between Holmes and the builders of the Fair every chapter. I think it would have made more sense for the author to have chosen a time frame - three months? - and written about the building of the Fair, then Pendergast, then Holmes. That would have strengthened the connect between them

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alliemikennareads's review

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dark informative reflective slow-paced


The Devil in the White City was 10 hours of audio at 1.5 speed. I previously read it in physical format years ago and I must say I liked the audio format much better. 

Bullet point review: 

- I forgot how much the book discusses architecture; this got tedious at times. 
- I loved the rich detail about the Chicago worlds fair and the way the book splices the fair, its history, and HH Holmes’ evil deeds together. 
- I still found it a great form of true crime/ nonfiction that reads like fiction. 

TW for some really graphic descriptions of a slaughterhouse, gas chambers, suicide, murder of women and children and dead body discovery. 

If you can get past the graphic parts and like historical fiction, I’d definitely recommend this one!

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cassieyorke's review against another edition

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challenging dark informative mysterious sad slow-paced


Erik Larson is one of the most talented popular historians of our age, and he has one tremendous strength and one glaring flaw. His strength is the breathtaking beauty he injects into every line he can, and his settings are often so realistic that he puts you in the past, whether you want to be or not. But his one glaring weakness is his tendency to get lost in the mundane, filling half of his books with things he himself might find interesting - like architecture or naval engineering - while coming up just short of making these things palatable for the average reader.

Still, White City is one book I'll happily give four stars, since it does such a fantastic job of sweeping you away to Gilded Age Chicago. It immerses you, familiarizes you with lovely details of daily life, introduces you to key players and average people alike, then leaving you to marvel at the unspeakable lost beauty of the World's Fair. He does the best that a twenty-first century author possibly can at conjuring a bit of that long-forgotten enchantment and romance, and I found myself putting the book down and dreaming a bit about what it would have been like at night. He gave me a glimpse of one of those spellbound moments long ago, and put me next to long-gone people when they were still drawing breath - or holding it, like I was. The fact that I had to wade through chapters of engineering and architectural details to get there felt a bit like Burnham must have - building this enchanting vision out of plain old steel and glass and finally getting to see it, just for a little while. Maybe that was the point; I'm not sure. If it was, I'd rather have had just a little more adventure getting there.

The sections about H.H. Holmes were more interesting, if horrifically disturbing. Most people enjoying this book have probably been true crime fans, hoping for a glimpse into the depraved mind of an early serial killer. Maybe they weren't quite as disturbed as I was, or didn't feel quite the same sympathy for his unfortunate victims. It speaks to Larson's talent as an author that he made those young women as real as anyone else, forcing you to care for them like any other living person. So those chapters were exceptionally well-written, if difficult to endure.

Larson has improved his craft since White City, like all authors do, and his later work shows more talent at making the mundane more interesting, blending it better with the substance of the overall book. Anyway, I did love this book and I'd happily recommend it to anyone who wanted to journey back in time to the Gilded Age, to see what life was like in the 1890s. Larson is second to none at transporting his readers back in time.

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