'The Devil in the White City' by Erik Larson

Book Club Discussion Questions

Wikipedia

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is a true story that takes place at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

Spoiler Warning: These book club discussion questions reveal important details about the story. Finish the book before reading on.

  1. Why do you think Erik Larson chose to tell Burnham and Holmes' stories together? How did the juxtaposition affect the narrative? Do you think they worked well together or would you have preferred to read about just Holmes or just Burnham?
  2. What did you learn about architecture? What do you think the fair contributed to the architectural landscape in the United States?
  3. How did the Chicago World's Fair change Chicago? America? The world? Discuss some of the inventions and ideas that were introduced at the fair that still impact life today.
  4. How was Holmes able to get away with so many murders without becoming suspect? Were you surprised by how easy it was for him to commit crimes without being caught?
  5. What ultimately led to Holmes' capture and the discovery of his crime? Was this inevitable?
  6. How did Holmes' hotel contrast with the buildings of the World's Fair? Can architecture reflect goodness or evil, or are buildings neutral until used?
  7. How did the White City contract with Chicago, the Black City?
  1. What do you think of Holmes' claim that he was the devil? Can people be inherently evil? How would you explain his strange allure and cold-hearted behavior?
  2. Burnham, Olmsted, Ferris and Holmes were all visionaries in their own ways. Discuss what drove each of these men, whether they were ever truly satisfied, and how their lives ultimately ended.
  3. Rate The Devil in the White City on a scale of 1 to 5.