The Devil in the White City Book Summary (PDF) by Erik Larson

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Why This Book Matters:

The Devil in the White City tells the story of the death and crime that plagued Chicago during the construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition in the late 1800s. Though seen as a grand exhibit of American culture, the event brought many visitors to a crime-ridden city, leading to heightened crime rates, death, and the creation of the first modern-day serial killer.

The Big Takeaways:

  1. Chicago was a dangerous place nearing the end of the nineteenth century.
    1. If Railways, fires, tainted water, and murder created a severe mix of chaos in nineteenth-century Chicago.
  2. America created the World’s Columbian Exposition and gave Chicago the right to host it.
    1. Chicago was still a gross, dangerous place, but Chicago residents were always proud of their city. The task then underway was to make the city presentable to outsiders.
  3. Architect, David Burnham, was given the task of building the fair.
    1. Though hopes were high for the fair, the construction of the festival proved to be dangerous, leading many men to lose their lives.
  4. Despite the troubles of creating the fair, it was a big hit.
    1. The fair was a grand showcase of invention and glamour, with over half a million people attending on some of the busiest days.
  5. The fair did not stop any of the dangers that plagued the Windy City.
    1. In addition to the already high crime rates in Chicago, bringing in a multitude of visitors only made danger more prominent, and accidentally welcomed the first modern-day serial killer.

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