The Devil in the White City

Thoughts ditwcbyel by Erik Larson, Vintage 2004 (ori 2002), 396 pages

Genre: Nonfiction, history, architecture, true crime: serial killers
Type/Source: tradeback, unknown
 Why I read this now: craving nonfiction

MOTIVATION for READING: My husband is not a fiction reader (or book reader, really) and he requested a book from my library that I thought he might enjoy. He has yet to finish and I needed a book when we were traveling so I finished it while he was doing other things.

WHAT’s it ABOUT: Larson typically takes two story lines – 1) a big event in history and weaves it with 2) a celebrity(?) personality. This one is about 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the men who were in charge of building it while exploring one of America’s earliest known serial killers. The Fair provided the opportunity for victims.

WHAT’s GOOD: I really enjoyed learning about Daniel H. Burnham. He’s the guy that the famous Chicago fountain is named for:


I also liked learning about the Ferris Wheel (but then I also explored more about this on my own. I just got curious after the inventor/designer was mentioned. I did that a lot, actually – pursued further knowledge about many a topic in this. And photos…)

What’s NOT so good: I was bored with the serial killer part and was mostly annoyed at Larson for the teasers that were so obscure and explained so far beyond in the text that I often groaned in frustration.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I am not sure I need to read any more of this guy’s books. They just aren’t for me. The history is usually awesome but I want more pictures and no more heavy-handed foreshadowing.

RATING:  Three slices of Blackbird Pie.




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16 thoughts on “The Devil in the White City

  1. I don’t think Erik Larson’s for me either, I felt just the same! There were so many elements to this book, and a bunch of them weren’t that interesting, and a bunch more felt underdeveloped, and just — yeah. Not my jam.

  2. I like the way he wove the story of the psycho killer in with the architects of the world’s fair. It’s kind of novelistic history-writing, which is the only kind I will read, anymore.

    1. I really enjoyed the one he wrote about Marconi. But I can NEVER remember the title! It was the same way – back and forth. I like narrative nonfiction, too.

  3. Having lived in Chicago and my love for the place is mostly why I was so excited in the first place to read this. But the writing style is what disappointed me. Still, I learned a lot and can’t wait to visit again – especially to see the Rookery!

  4. I listened to this several years ago and agree there are (too many) boring parts. The audio kept me going, but I’m not sure I would have made it to the end in print… ended up rating it 4 stars on audible. I keep saying I’m going to try something else he’s written, but haven’t managed to do it yet.

    1. I just reread my review of Thunderstruck and now wonder if I really DID enjoy it! Now I feel like I’m just being mean. He is a popular writer and he chooses fascinating topics.

  5. Dead Wake was my first Erik Larson, and I loved it. Then I read this one and liked it, but it bored me in a couple of places. I did love all the history, though, and looked up many things on my own. I might have liked Dead Wake better because it was about a sinking ship, and I love sea stories/disasters. I’m thinking my next one would be Isaac’s storm, because I also like reading about storms.

    1. The history is great and I love the idea of his books. I keep thinking I must try Mary Roach for some nonfiction next – I can’t believe I have yet to read ANY of her books!

  6. litandlife

    It’s pretty bad when a creepy serial killer is boring, isn’t it? This one’s been sitting on our book shelves for years and the hubby really liked it so I imagine I’ll pick it up at some time. But I’ll be in no rush now.

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