The Ambitious Paths Of Burnham And Holmes In ‘The Devil In The White City.’

Introducing the Central Characters

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson opens on a cruise ride, The Olympic, in 1912, where the audience is introduced to Daniel Burnham. He is an architect extraordinaire and does not know it yet but will be given the most daunting task of his career, to design Chicago’s World’s Fair. The reader is later introduced to H.H. Holmes, a sociopath serial killer who takes residence in a hotel he builds for his killings. The book does a fantastic job of contrasting these two men’s lives as they undergo their own adversities in the same city. In The Devil in the White City, the author, Erik Larson, successfully informs readers of the hardships the architects faced while contrasting the sinister side of Chicago’s most infamous killer and the role determination plays in all aspects of society.

The Determination Driving Their Actions

The idea of determination is the force that drives society to change in all civilizations. Holmes has known about his sinister side for a long time, and when he moves to Chicago and takes over Mrs. Holton’s pharmacy because of her husband’s illness, she cannot keep up with the rent. Holmes has a very sweet and smooth charisma, so it is not difficult for him to coax the old, vulnerable lady into having him take over the store. He quickly turns a profit. All the time, Mrs.Holton left for California and has not returned. This is the first instance of Holmes’s suspected murderous side. Eventually, Holmes turns enough profit and begins construction on his new hotel on 63rd and South Wallace St.

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He also had to persevere through different obstacles along the journey. He was under suspicion from the local authorities and had construction slowed by the cold winter. Holmes could have easily constructed his building somewhere else. However, he knew that this would be the optimal location for what he had planned, and through all hindrances, he pushed through and finished his building in time for the fair. The same principles are exemplified in Burnham’s story.

He was given the seemingly impossible task of designing a world fair that would top the one in Paris. It was ultimately decided the fair would be held in Chicago on the spectacular Navy Pier. Daniel Burnham and his team of architects were told they only had twenty-four hours to finish the plans for the entire fair, a job the architects in Paris had months to complete for a fair that was half the size the one in Chicago would be fully completed. Burnham showed exceptional drive and ambition when he was given this task. He worked tirelessly with his crew to complete the plans so construction could begin on schedule.

Parallel Lives, Diverging Intentions

One of the many themes portrayed throughout this book is the differences in mindsets between the normal and the abnormal. The two seemingly different characters have a lot more in common than they are originally portrayed to have. Burnham is introduced as an exceptionally good architect who pushes himself almost to the point of complete exhaustion. He basically cuts out his family completely. I have a personal connection with Daniel in the sense that in my hockey career, there was a point where I would have training in the morning, then school, hockey practice right after school, and after all that, I had weight training and hockey practice again. It got to the point where it was too much.

I had no time for myself, so I had to make the choice to cancel my morning sessions to give myself time to recoup. Burnham is constantly striving for perfection. He feels his work is never good enough, and he is consistently making changes to his plans for the fair. Holmes, in the same sense, surrounded himself with his passion. He spent all his additional energy and money on perfecting his “murder castle,” as it is described in later years. The hotel he creates is extremely complex, with hidden rooms and dungeons where he can perform his malice acts undisturbed.

This theme also gives an idea of the coexistence of good and bad. On one side of the spectrum, you have Burnham, who is striving to make Chicago a better place and have the fair be enjoyable. The other side of this is Holmes, whose sociopathic tendencies bring horror to the fair.

Challenges, Adversities, and the Impact of Their Work

The architects who designed the World’s Fair encountered many obstacles during their time working. Daniel Burnham and his partner John Root toiled day after day until the planning was complete. The men were faced with challenges along the journey, one of those being the time frame they were given. They had to fully design the entire fair in a matter of days. They had to give up any extra time they had and constantly work on finishing in time for construction to start.

After Root passes away, Burnham is forced to finish the fair by himself and has to handle all the responsibilities. Another problem Burnham had to deal with was the injury of the workers. The safety conditions were atrocious. Several men died while working on the fair’s construction. These deaths eventually led to the formation of the Union. The workers were tired of safety conditions being inadequate and wages being too low. They felt it was unfair that the high demand for jobs caused workers from all over to come and take less pay when the men had families to feed. This new Union made Burnham agree to pay a minimum wage and give more money to the workers who stayed overtime and worked on major holidays.

All in all, this book was enjoyable. It gave a good contrast between the cynical mind behind the murders Holmes committed and the determination of Burnham through all the adversities he faced. It was also very interesting to read about the city we live so close to before all the modern technology and architecture changed it drastically.

It was nice to read a book that I could relate to most of the towns, buildings, and parks that played important roles in the plot. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend because the serial killer portion is what gives the book suspense, but the journey of Burnham really gets your attention mid-way through the book when you wonder if he will finish the fair on time and if it will be a success.


  1. Larson, E. (2003). The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. New York: Crown Publishers.
  2. Gapp, P. (1986). Chicago’s Fair: A Building Challenge. The Chicago Tribune.
  3. Ramsey, B. (2019). Determinism in Society: An Analysis of the Architectural and Sociopathic Ambitions in Chicago. Journal of Historical Review.

My Future Goals: Charting A Course For The New Year

My Future Goals: Academic and Social Ambitions

As the new year slowly approaches us, the first thing that many would do is think of their New Year’s resolutions. This annual tradition aims to reevaluate your life and make changes to it. I want to achieve goals by the end of the year to get good grades, form connections with other students, and code or script.

Let us start with my first goal: I want to get good grades because my education is critical to me, and getting good grades is only a stepping stone to what I have planned for the future. To achieve this goal, I could first start by making a list of the assignments that I have to complete so that I can be organized and so I will not forget. Secondly, I could begin by studying daily outside of school since studying could strengthen my memory for further quizzes or exams. Lastly, I could consult my teachers and ask them for advice on how to improve my grade. Achieving academic excellence not only sets the foundation for future career success but also instills a sense of self-worth and determination

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Coding Dreams: Bringing Ideas to Life

My second goal is to form connections with more students. I could make more friends by talking to more people and slowly getting to know them. There are many reasons why this goal is essential. Firstly, If I can hook up with someone with good grades like me, I can do homework and study with them; by doing this, we can improve our grades and learn from each other. The second reason why I would like to make more friends is because I would like to get more used to and more comfortable with the new environment I am in. Lastly, having more friends would make me feel less lonely and happier.

My last third goal is more personal, and it is to be able to script or code by the end of the year. I could learn scripting from my friend, who already knows how to script, and I could watch tutorials on YouTube. I want to learn how to script because I could create my own game or app and earn money if I knew how. Another reason why I want to learn how to script is because scripting could bring anything to life, like; say, if I had an idea for a game, if I knew how to script, I could bring that idea to life.

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