The Devil in the White City Book Summary - The Devil in the White City Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

The Devil in the White City summary

Erik Larson

Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

3.8 (41 ratings)
11 mins

Brief summary

'The Devil in the White City' by Erik Larson is a non-fiction book that showcases the entwined stories of Daniel Burnham, the architect behind the 1893 World's Fair, and Dr. H.H. Holmes, a notorious serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims.

Table of Contents

    The Devil in the White City
    Summary of 5 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 5

    At the close of the nineteenth century, the streets of Chicago were rife with vice and violence.

    Are you ready for a thrilling story of national pride, high society and murder? Before we dive in, let’s take a look at life in Chicago circa 1890.

    As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Chicago, an American city on the shores of Lake Michigan in Illinois, was a city rife with vice and violence.

    Death along the city’s many railroad crossings were commonplace; two people on average were crushed under the wheels of trains daily. Chicago residents weren’t fazed, and some even had the task of collecting severed heads and limbs found along the tracks.

    Fire was another common killer, with wooden shanty homes often going up in flames, killing dozens daily. The city’s water supply was also deadly, as sewage that spilled into the Chicago river was teeming with unhealthy bacteria. Cholera, typhus and other potentially fatal diseases were just a fact of life.

    Those in poor neighborhoods lived with trash-lined streets and suffered from infestations of rats and flies. The corpses of animals were also a common sight; no matter if a dog, cat or horse, the city had no organized groups to collect them. These dead animals would freeze under the ice of winter only to warm, bloat and rupture in the sweltering heat of summer.

    Murder rates in Chicago were some of the highest in North America. The city’s police didn’t have the manpower or even the training to manage this violent city. In the first half of 1892, some 800 gruesome deaths were counted in Chicago – that’s about four deaths every day.

    Amid all this chaos, Chicago was also witness to serious social change. Women were entering the workforce in droves, allowing many young, single women to build new lives for themselves in Chicago.

    Chicago’s working women worked as seamstresses, weavers, typists and stenographers, among many other jobs. As urban reformer Jane Addams wrote, there had never been a time in the history of civilization in which so many young girls could travel and live so freely.

    Indeed, Chicago’s industry was booming, with the city’s meatpacking district the largest in the nation. Demand for housing was high; the growth in real estate construction saw modern skyscrapers rapidly shaping the Chicago skyline.

    Want more?
    Read or listen to the key ideas
    from 7,000+ titles

    Key ideas in The Devil in the White City

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is The Devil in the White City about?

    The Devil in the White City (2003) takes you to Chicago in the 1890s, when the growing city was the host of the World’s Fair amid a time of social upheaval and serious crime. These blinks blend a story of exciting American innovation with the unspeakable acts of one of the world’s first serial killers.

    The Devil in the White City Review

    The Devil in the White City (2003) is a fascinating read that delves into the dark side of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Here's what makes this book captivating:
    • It combines history, architecture, and true crime in a compelling narrative.
  • The book brings the Gilded Age to life with rich details and vivid descriptions.
  • It offers a unique perspective on the ambitions and challenges faced by the fair's architects and the city of Chicago.
    Immerse yourself in this thrilling tale by picking up a copy of The Devil in the White City.
  • Best quote from The Devil in the White City

    Sociologist Max Weber likened Chicago to a human being with his skin removed.

    —Erik Larson
    example alt text

    Who should read The Devil in the White City?

    • Readers with a taste for the creepy
    • True-crime fans
    • American history buffs

    About the Author

    Erik Larson has written for the Wall Street Journal, Time and other publications. He’s also the author of multiple books, including In the Garden of Beasts, Dead Wake, Thunderstruck and Isaac’s Storm.

    Categories with The Devil in the White City

    Book summaries like The Devil in the White City

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked these summaries

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    28 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    The Devil in the White City FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Devil In The White City?

    The Devil in the White City uncovers the dark side of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair through the chilling story of a cunning serial killer.

    How long does it take to read The Devil In The White City?

    The reading time for The Devil in the White City varies, but it typically takes around 9 hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is The Devil In The White City a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Devil in the White City is a captivating true-crime tale that offers a unique perspective on the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

    Who is the author of The Devil In The White City?

    The author of The Devil in the White City is Erik Larson.

    How many chapters are in The Devil In The White City?

    The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson has 54 chapters. They are as follows: Prologue, Part I: The Black City - Chapters 1 to 6, Interlude, Part II: The White City - Chapters 7 to 18, Part III: In the White City - Chapters 19 to 27, Part IV: Cruelty Revealed - Chapters 28 to 38, Part V: Recessional - Chapters 39 to 47, Epilogue, and Afterword.

    How many pages are in The Devil In The White City?

    The Devil in the White City has 447 pages.

    When was The Devil In The White City published?

    The Devil in the White City was published in 2003.

    What to read after The Devil in the White City?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Devil in the White City, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    • Dangerous Personalities by Joe Navarro
    • A Very English Scandal by John Preston
    • American Prometheus by Kai Bird & Martin J Sherwin
    • Furious Hours by Casey Cep
    • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
    • Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell
    • Killing the Mob by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
    • The Porn Trap by Wendy Maltz & Larry Maltz
    • Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott