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The Devil in the White City

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The Devil in the White City
Cover of The Devil in the White City
AuthorErik Larson
GenreHistorical non-fiction
PublisherCrown Publishers
Publication date
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America is a 2003 historical non-fiction book by Erik Larson presented in a novelistic style. Set in Chicago during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, it tells the story of World’s Fair architect Daniel Burnham and of H. H. Holmes, a criminal figure widely considered the first serial killer in the United States.[1] Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the film rights in 2010.[2] The concept has since been in development hell.[3]

Chicago Worlds Fair 1893


The Devil in the White City is divided into four parts, the first three happening in Chicago between 1890 and 1893, while part four of the book takes place in Philadelphia circa 1895. The book interweaves the true tales of Daniel Burnham, the architect behind the 1893 World's Fair, and H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who lured his victims to their deaths in his elaborately constructed "Murder Castle".

Burnham ran into many challenges when it came to the World's Fair including a fire, difficulty engineering the buildings to be safe, and a lack of funds for the fair. H.H. Holmes was responsible for multiple murders. His "dungeon" was equipped with secret rooms, torture chambers, and he even had access to a big furnace to cremate the bodies of his victims. Holmes was known as a charming man who had the ability to seduce his victims. He mainly targeted women in the book.


Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the book as "vivid" and "lively", and commented on how the research done by Larson on the many "odd and amazing" events of the 1893 exhibition are "given shape and energy" by his "dramatic inclinations".[4]

David Traxel for The New York Times criticized Larson for having "little sense of pacing or focus" in the "grab-bag" approach he took when discussing the exhibition. Regarding the discussion of Holmes in the book, he writes that Larson's "imaginative touches…sometimes goes farther than the sources warrant".[5]

In a review for Newsweek, Malcolm Jones wrote "only in the notes at the back of the book does [Larson] admit that the chapters describing Holmes's murders are merely conjecture built on a handful of facts"; even so, the story of the fair was "too enchanting" so even that "grave misstep can't doom" the book.[6]


In 2007, a television documentary inspired by the book titled Madness in the White City aired on the National Geographic Channel.[7]

Ann Reinking collaborated with composer Bruce Wolosoff and Melissa Thodos of Thodos Dance Chicago to create the ballet The Devil in the White City, based on the novel; the Chicago Sun-Times named it "Best Dance of 2011".[8][9]

Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the film rights to the book in 2010. The film version, as originally planned, would have been directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Billy Ray, and produced jointly by Paramount Pictures, Double Feature Films, and DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions.[10][11][12]

In 2019, Hulu began developing a series based on the book. DiCaprio and Scorsese were signed on to executive produce.[13][14] It was announced in January 2022 that actor Keanu Reeves was in negotiations to star in the series and Todd Field would direct the first two episodes.[15] Production and filming were expected to begin March 2023 in Chicago and Toronto, with the series expected to launch in 2024.[16] In October 2022, Reeves left the production without comment.[17] Field left the project a couple of days later.[18] In March 2023, it was reported that Hulu would not move forward with the series.[19][20] The show is being shopped to other distributors without Reeves and Field attached.[21]



  1. ^ Magazine, Smithsonian; Solly, Meilan. "The Enduring Mystery of H.H. Holmes, America's 'First' Serial Killer". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
  2. ^ "Leonardo DiCaprio secures rights to book of first serial killer in the US", The Guardian newspaper (November 2, 2010). Accessed November 2, 2010.
  3. ^ Rindner, Grant (October 11, 2022). "'Devil in the White City' Seems Cursed in Hollywood". GQ. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 10, 2003). "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Add a Serial Murderer to 1893 Chicago's Opulent Overkill". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  5. ^ Traxel, David (March 9, 2003). "A Real-Life Bates Motel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  6. ^ Jones, Malcolm (February 9, 2003). "Back To The Future". Newsweek. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  7. ^ Smith, Sid (September 24, 2007). "Condensed 'Madness' a compelling Chicago tale". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 22, 2023.
  8. ^ Weiss, Hedy (December 22, 2011). ""11 for '11: The year's best dance"". Chicago Sun-Times.
  9. ^ "Thodos Dance Chicago rebuilds the White City". Time Out Chicago. March 1, 2011.
  10. ^ "Leonardo DiCaprio Teams With Martin Scorsese for 'Devil in the White City'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  11. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (December 16, 2011). "Warner Bros Sets Black List Top Scribe Graham Moore For 'Devil In The White City'; Leonardo DiCaprio To Play Serial Killer". Deadline Hollywood.
  12. ^ McNary, Dave (August 10, 2015). "Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese Reunite for 'Devil in the White City'". Variety. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  13. ^ "Keanu Reeves reportedly in talks to star in Hulu's adaptation of 'The Devil in the White City'". Web News Observer. January 10, 2022. Retrieved January 9, 2022.
  14. ^ Otterson, Joe (February 11, 2019). "'Devil in the White City' Series in the Works at Hulu from Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese." Variety. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  15. ^ Epting, Claire (January 4, 2022). "Keanu Reeves to Star In Scorsese Produced 'Devil in the White City' Series". ScreenCrush.
  16. ^ "The Devil in the White City sets spring production date in Chicago". | Reel Chicago - At the intersection of Chicago Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. August 29, 2022. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
  17. ^ "Keanu Reeves Exits Hulu's Devil in the White City Series". Vulture. October 7, 2022. Retrieved October 8, 2022.
  18. ^ "Devil in the White City: Director Todd Field Exits Hulu Show". October 10, 2022.
  19. ^ Otterson, Joe (March 7, 2023). "'Devil in the White City' Series Not Moving Forward at Hulu". Variety. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  20. ^ Rice, Lynette (March 6, 2023). "Hulu Drops 'Devil In The White City'; ABC Signature Hopes To Find New Home For Limited Series". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 6, 2023.
  21. ^ Gularte, Alejandra (March 7, 2023). "The Devil in the White City Adaptation Isn't Happening". Vulture. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  22. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - Books - March 4, 2018 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 20, 2023.

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