Open in the App Open in the App Open in the App
Get the key ideas from

The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

By Erik Larson
10-minute read
Audio available
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

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.

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

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.

Go Premium and get the best of Blinkist

Upgrade to Premium now and get unlimited access to the Blinkist library. Read or listen to key insights from the world’s best nonfiction.

Upgrade to Premium

What is Blinkist?

The Blinkist app gives you the key ideas from a bestselling nonfiction book in just 15 minutes. Available in bitesize text and audio, the app makes it easier than ever to find time to read.

Discover
3,000+ top
nonfiction titles

Get unlimited access to the most important ideas in business, investing, marketing, psychology, politics, and more. Stay ahead of the curve with recommended reading lists curated by experts.

Join Blinkist to get the key ideas from

The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

By Erik Larson
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
Synopsis

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.

Key idea 1 of 6

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.

Key ideas in this title

No time to
read?

Pssst. Sign up to your secret to success: key ideas from top nonfiction in just 15 minutes.
Created with Sketch.