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30+ quotes from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

Quotes from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Erik Larson ·  447 pages

Rating: (382.3K votes)


“It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root. This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“I must confess a shameful secret: I love Chicago best in the cold.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“I was born with the devil in me,' [Holmes] wrote. 'I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.

Daniel H. Burnham”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“His weakness was his belief that evil had boundaries.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow. In the end it is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“. . . why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Great murderers, like great men in other walks of activity, have blue eyes.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Beside his own person and his own interests, nothing is sacred to the psychopath.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“The intermittent depression that had shadowed him throughout his adult life was about to envelop him once again. ”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Place has always been important to me, and one thing today's Chicago exudes, as it did in 1893, is a sense of place. I fell in love with the city, the people I encountered, and above all the lake and its moods, which shift so readily from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Holmes was charming and gracious, but something about him made Belknap uneasy. He could not have defined it. Indeed, for the next several decades alienists and their successors would find themselves hard-pressed to describe with any precision what it was about men like Holmes that could cause them to seem warm and ingratiating but also telegraph the vague sense that some important element of humanness was missing.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“No one could bear the idea of the White City lying empty and desolate. A Cosmopolitan writer said, "Better to have it vanish suddenly, in a blaze of glory, than fall into gradual disrepair and dilapidation. There is no more melancholy spectacle than a festal hall, the morning after the banquet, when the guests have departed and the lights are extinguished.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Beneath the stars the lake lay dark and sombre," Stead wrote, "but on its shores gleamed and glowed in golden radiance the ivory city, beautiful as a poet's dream, silent as a city of the dead.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“I will be on the look out for you, my dear girl," he wrote. "You must expect to give yourself up when you come." For this buttoned-up age, for Burnham, it was a letter that could have steamed itself open.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Chicago has disappointed her enemies and astonished the world”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“For now, the tension was subtle, a vibration, like the inaudible cry of overstressed steel.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“But one thing was quite clear...." [Sol Bloom, chief of the Midway] wrote. "[B]eing broke didn't disturb me in the least. I had started with nothing, and if I now found myself with nothing, I was at least even. Actually, I was much better than even: I had had a wonderful time.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“I find it all infinitely sad, but at the same time so entrancing, that I often feel as if it would be the part of wisdom to fly at once to the woods or mountains where one can always find peace. - Dora Root in a letter to Daniel Burnham”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Holmes was charming and gracious, but something about him made Belknap uneasy. He could not have defined it. Indeed, for the next several decades alienists and their successors would find themselves hard-pressed to describe with any precision what it was about men like Holmes that could cause them to seem warm and ingratiating but also telegraph the vague sense that some important element of humanness was missing. At first alienists described this condition as “moral insanity” and those who exhibited the disorder as “moral imbeciles.” They later adopted the term “psychopath,” used in the lay press as early as 1885 in William Stead’s Pall Mall Gazette, which described it as a “new malady” and stated, “Beside his own person and his own interests, nothing is sacred to the psychopath.” Half a century later, in his path-breaking book The Mask of Sanity, Dr. Hervey Cleckley described the prototypical psychopath as “a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly. … So perfect is his reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him in a clinical setting can point out in scientific or objective terms why, or how, he is not real.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes, with lawns and banks and forest-covered hills." — Daniel Burnham talking about Frederick Law Olmstead”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“No one cared what St. Louis thought, although the city got a wink for pluck.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Leaves hung in the stillness like hands of the newly dead.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“They saw even more ungodly things—the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima’s. They sampled a new, oddly flavored gum called Juicy Fruit, and caramel-coated popcorn called Cracker Jack. A new cereal, Shredded Wheat, seemed unlikely to succeed—“shredded doormat,” some called it—but a new beer did well, winning the exposition’s top beer award. Forever afterward, its brewer called it Pabst Blue Ribbon.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“One portion of the lakefront, named Burnham Park in his honor, contains Soldier Field and the Field Museum, which he designed.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“As the light began to fade, the architects lit the library’s gas jets, which hissed like mildly perturbed cats.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Burnham and Root became rich men. Not Pullman rich, not rich enough to be counted among the first rank of society alongside Potter Palmer and Philip Armour, or to have their wives’ gowns described in the city’s newspapers, but rich beyond anything either man had expected, enough so that each year Burnham bought a barrel of fine Madeira and aged it by shipping it twice around the world on slow freighters.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“It amused him that women as a class were so wonderfully vulnerable, as if they believed that the codes of conduct that applied in their safe little hometowns, like Alva, Clinton, and Percy, might actually still apply once they had left behind their dusty, kerosene-scented parlors and set out on their own.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“Why had Holmes taken the children? Why had he engineered that contorted journey from city to city? What power did Holmes possess that gave him such control? There was something about Holmes that Geyer just did not understand. Every crime had a motive. But the force that propelled Holmes seemed to exist outside the world of Geyer’s experience. He kept coming back to the same conclusion: Holmes was enjoying himself. He had arranged the insurance fraud for the money, but the rest of it was for fun. Holmes was testing his power to bend the lives of people.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


“To produce the kind of landscape effects Olmsted strived to create required not months but years, even decades. "I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future," he wrote. "In laying out Central Park we determined to think of no result to be realized in less than forty years.”
― Erik Larson, quote from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America


About the author

Erik Larson
Born place: in Brooklyn, New York, The United States
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