The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

One of Eric Larson's well-known factual works is The Devil in the White City. It centers on 1893, the year that the Chicago World's Fair was planned and constructed.

Four Main Sections

There are four main sections to the book. Chicago hosts the first three events, while Philadelphia hosts the final one. The identities of the characters are real, and the book is based on real events.

Orderly Presentation

The reader can better grasp the point Larson was trying to make because of the orderly way he has laid out the events. It is a masterpiece, since it depicts the extensive research he had to undertake before putting the experiences on paper.

Detailed Analysis

The entire book expresses the detailed analysis of the period Chicago World's Fair was built, and the successes and failures that were experienced by the architects. Moreover, it shows about the life around the fair, focusing on H.H. Holmes and his World Fair hotel.

Division into Two Plots

The main outstanding aspect of the book is the division into two plots. One is centered on the architect of the fair, Daniel Burnham, and his associates, who helped him in the designing and the construction of the fair. The other is based on H.H. Holmes, a serial killer, who conducted his affairs around the fair. It is interesting how the author brings the two plots together, and develops a comprehensive and detailed story about the period.

Plot One: Daniel Burnham and His Associates

The first plot that depicts Daniel Burnham and his associates is aimed at representing the noble part of the book. It is composed of the good deeds that led to the recognition of Columbus in America. Besides, it was a way of responding to the Eiffel Tower that had been unveiled by France during the time. The manner in which the author outlines the happening during the construction is fascinating and at the same time creating emotions to the reader. The architects had the opportunity to be well-known in the entire globe since they could design a very critical building in the history of America. The good part that the author aims at illustrating is the success that Burnham had in the completion of the building. He was able to develop a fair that was better than Eiffel Tower by far through determination, persistence, and grace. The fair attracted many visitors; hence, making it be opened before completion. After the completion, there was a significant increase in the number of visitors, which was an indication of the success the architects had in their work. Despite the challenges that the author points out it is evident that he focuses more on the good side over the evil. It is an aspect that helps in creating contrast with the next plot.

Plot Two: H.H. Holmes, the Serial Killer

The story progresses to the plot that unfolds the events around the serial killer H.H. Holmes. Since coming to Chicago in 1886 to look for a job as a pharmacist or a doctor, he engages in acts of murder. He focuses on the lone women that are visiting the fair, and lures them into his house. He buys a construction across the street from where his pharmacy is located, and turns it into a hotel. It has a basement that has a kiln, which is aimed at making it easy for him to dispose of the bodies of his victims. The way the author narrates this plot makes the reader think of it as a fictional story. This is one of the outstanding elements of storytelling that Larson uses in advancing his themes. It has been effective, since it turns the novel into an interesting unfolding of events that are not only based on rigid factual aspects. It depicts Holmes in his true colors, as well as revealing all the ills and crimes he committed when he was in Chicago. The expression of the plot into the small details plays a crucial role in creating a sequence in the storytelling technique.

Contrasting the Title: Good and Evil

As the title of the book states, it is evident that, despite the aesthetic aspect of the city, there is evil roaming around. The choice of the title is an effective way of contrasting the bad and the good. Larson decides to use the term White City in an attempt to illustrate how appealing Chicago was especially after the construction of the fair. It has, in an efficient manner, demonstrated the good part of the town as a tourist attraction and an income generator. The dramatic effects that the author uses have been effective in developing the entertainment part of the novel. On the other hand, the H.H. Holmes is portrayed as the devil. The dynamic aspect of the novel that the author uses helps in shifting gears from the good side of the fair to its evil side. Despite the two opposing sides, there is the achievement of a connection that creates the wholesomeness of the story.

Comprehensive and Informative

The information that helps in the development of the entire story seems credible, since the author has a mastery of all his entire topics. He provides detailed information in all plots, which not only makes the novel interesting, but also informative. It also acts as a way of educating the people the cultural and historical importance of the Chicago World Fair, and, at the same time, illustrating the dark side it was associated with. Moreover, the way the author outlines his work is exemplary since it expresses a stage by stage analysis of the different elements that make up the plot. Besides, the story aims at illustrating the political aspects of the city during the period of the construction and the impact it had on the citizens. Consequently, the novel can be termed as comprehensive in the manner it tackles the different aspects, affecting the society at that time.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, The Devil in the White City is an interesting novel that tells the reality and factual information in an entertaining way. The author has mastered the art of storytelling in all the parts and chapters, which is effective in creating a flow. Moreover, it has helped in enriching the content since there is detailed information concerning the two plots. It is also interesting that the manner in which two contrasting plots can be developed to create a connection. Despite the opposing aspects of the plots, they provide critical insight and continuation of the entire story.


Larson, Eric. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Crown Publishing, 2009

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