Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “City of Light” as Want to Read:
City of Light
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

City of Light

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  3,080 Ratings  ·  463 Reviews
In the tradition of Ragtime and The Alienist, a dazzling historical story bursting with vibrant characters, both real and imagined. A thriller, a love story, a rich portrait of an American city poised for glory at the turn of the century. Abridged.
Audio Cassette, Abridged, 0 pages
Published October 10th 2000 by Random House Audio (first published 1999)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about City of Light, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about City of Light

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
This started so well. The distinctive unmarried heroine. Life in the high society of Buffalo. An all-girls school. Electricity, when it first arrived on the scene. Then the fluff took over...
Boring. Slow. Depressing. Too long. Too many infodumps. Not even Rapey Grover Cleveland could inject any zip. And let's face it -- if Rapey Grover Cleveland isn't enough to get your story moving, you need to rethink your plot cycle. :P

In short: blatant bookclub fodder that's fully aware of its Literary Aspects, thereby ruining the enjoyment of reading.

2 stars for the occasional pretty turn-of-phrase. The story itself had potential, but it was squandered by the erudite flag-waving.
Nov 12, 2012 Tim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Meh. I really wanted to like this, but it was a struggle. First, history isn't so much inter-weaved as it is patched on. It's jarring to just have historical anecdotes thrown in like footnotes that don't know their place. Things like (not an actual example): We went to X park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1897. Ok, interesting, but not exactly a seamless addition to the narrative.
My second problem is that the whole thing was way too blunt and transparent. The narrator explains everything
Lorin Cary
Jul 27, 2013 Lorin Cary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
City of Light

This is Lauren Lefler’s first novel, and it’s easy to see why it won so many plaudits. (I’m reading it because I was so impressed by her second novel.) Her protagonist, Louisa Barrett, is the headmistress of a school for girls in Buffalo, NY, in 1901. The city is on the verge of hosting the Pan-American Exposition (during which President McKinley is assassinated) and as the Niagra Falls hydroelectric plant expands the city will become even more prominent. In this dynamic context Lou
Joanne Moyer
Buffalo NY in 1901 is one of the most important cities in the US, if not the world. With it's numerous ports it is a gateway for shipping to the world. It's industry and electrified streets have made it a model city for the new century and many important people have made it their home.
The city is finishing plans to open the much anticipated Pan-American Exposition at which a new
hydroelectric power plant will be opened. The plant is causing much unrest in the city between power brokers supporting
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 19, 2007 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults
Really liked this book: a good story, compelling. Takes place in late 1890s to early 1900s, in Buffalo, NY. The backdrop is the Pan-American Exibition and city fathers/businessmen are readying the city, as this event will draw thousands, including politicians, and getting your city noticted never hurts. But that is just the backdrop (and, no it is not a murder story as in Devil in the White City, also featuring a world's fair, and the wonder of electricity). Louisa Barrett is the headmistress of ...more
Nov 01, 2013 Angela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book for two reasons; it takes place where I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and because I have a particular interest in this era. The detail and historical references of the city of Buffalo take me to the time when our city was bustling with richness and possibilities while preparing for the Pan-American Exhibition. I had to take a drive through it with a new vision and appreciation for buildings that we have seen thousands of times. I have lived here my entire life and never knew the histo ...more
Elyse Hayes
Jan 30, 2014 Elyse Hayes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this historical novel set in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th century. The author mentions real places, real buildings, etc. and weaves local history into a mystery. At the time there was a lot of wealth in the city, it was still a major port, the power plant was new, beautiful buildings were being built, they hosted the 1901 PanAmerican Exhibition, and during that, President McKinley was shot. Fascinating. Story really kept my interest all the way through. Written from the viewpoint of the ...more
Justine Janora
Dec 06, 2012 Justine Janora rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a Buffalonian born in the late 1960's I loved this book. It made me feel like I was part of a thriving city on the verge of something greater. Unfortunately as most current Buffalonians know, the city hasn't yet hit those days of grandour again. But the book was very well written and the research took me on a quest. I found myself in the Ellicott Sqaure building, in front of the elevators looking at the swastikas embedded in the tiled floor. I had walked those floors many times but never noti ...more
Sep 16, 2007 Catherine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical Fiction fans
I was loving this historical fiction novel at first - I felt it made Buffalo NY at the turn of the century - when it was known as "The City of Light" come alive and the author was sensitive to roles of race and gender at the timeframe (instead of glossing over that). The main character is independent and likable and I was learning history at the same time. Unfortunately, and maybe this was her trying to be true to the realities of an independent woman during that time frame, the story takes an i ...more
Shelly Sweeney
Jun 21, 2014 Shelly Sweeney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I simply LOVED this book! I am a Buffalo girl and it was really fun to be able to find the house I was living in on the book jacket. I learned a lot about Buffalo history in a very interesting book! I loved how the author wove the fictional story completely into a real setting with real historical facts. I really felt the characters and the story unfolding! I also enjoyed reading about the amazing architecture, as well as the building of the first power plant! Excellent job! Would recommend to a ...more
Aug 05, 2009 Swanbender2001 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a well written historical fiction set in the late 1800's, early 1900s. The power station at Niagara Falls is being constructed and at the same time the Pan-American Exposition is occuring. President McKinley is assassinated towards the end of the book. The 'City of Light' is Buffalo where electricity is being brought into the buildings and homes to replace gas lamps and release the city of the pall of darkness the gas clouds leave hanging over it. Automobiles are a rare occurence but wil ...more
Jan 26, 2016 Booknblues rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lauren Belfer immerses the reader in the turn of the century city of Buffalo. It is an exciting time where change and industrialization is worshiped. It is a time for women as well as men. Their position in society is changing. they are becoming increasingly educated and able to impact through social change. It is a time to come to America and walk the streets of gold. Immigrants from eastern Europe flock to this country and cause upheavals of their own. It is the time for the worker. Industries ...more
Sonja Livingston
I applaud anyone who wants to bring the rich history of western New York to the world through writing or art. The novel includes much information and research and provides a good "feel" for Buffalo at the turn of the century and what was at stake for the landscape and the people. That said, the main character was inconsistent and unbelievable, and the plot veered over the falls about a third of the way through. I enjoyed several of the strands of story, and was hooked enough to find out what hap ...more
Steve Griffin
Aug 23, 2016 Steve Griffin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A complex historical thriller set at the turn of the twentieth century, when the first power stations were being established at Niagara Falls. It was a time of great hope (with promises to roll back the darkness and let poor children read by electric light) and great conflict, between unionists, black people, and nature 'preservationists' against the powerful new industrialists. It's all told from the perspective of the spinster head teacher of the local girl's school, who bears a major secret o ...more
Luke Friedman
Sep 06, 2012 Luke Friedman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lauren Belfer's City of Light discusses Buffalo, NY at the turn of the last century. In this novel, Belfer explores Buffalo through the eyes of Louisa Barret. Ms. Barrett is the headmistress of the Macaulay school. This book has a touch of mystery and history. I would recommend it anyone who likes a good novel and enjoys reading about the history of Buffalo and the time of the Pan-American Exposition.
Maybe 3.5. A thoroughly researched and densely plotted novel centering on 1906 Buffalo, New York. Well done, if a bit heavy on the exposition. It seems that no fact about Buffalo was too trivial to include.

As I am not the target audience for this book, I didn't connect with the protagonist as Belfer's intended readers probably did.
Although this book is just shy of 500 pages, I read it in 3 days, and I also managed to grade stack of essays and read part of another book. I also made myself slow down to enjoy all the description and really try to soak in some of the history. I have always enjoyed historical fiction, but rarely do I pay much attention to the details of the place since I don't really KNOW the place personally. However, City of Light takes place at the turn of the last century when Buffalo hosted the Pan-Ameri ...more
Oct 06, 2008 Meghan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adrienne Boudreau
Dec 27, 2012 Adrienne Boudreau rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adrienne by: Andrea
If I had to chose one word to describe "City of Light" I would use "dissapointing." As someone who lives in Buffalo, NY I've heard quite a bit of fuss amde about this book over the years. Despite my intrests in Buffalo, history and period stories this book and I just did not mesh properly.

For a mystery novel the mystery was very drawn out and dull, also a little too easy to predict. The big reveal didn't come soon enough towards the end and then the actual ending of the novel seemed awkward, fo
Sep 03, 2014 LuAnn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much political and economic intrigue among the kingpins of turn-of-the-century Buffalo society centering around a single headmistress with a secret and the family she is closest to. I was drawn in and had to know what happened, so I read it in three days! The attitudes of those in power presented in this will jar many of us, though sadly are also reflected in our world to this day. Fascinating look at Buffalo and turn-of-the-century history involving societal values, civil rights movements, hist ...more
Cover blurbs are too intense- I did not think the mystery was particularly gripping. The book is full of Louisa explaining the etiquette and subtext of upper class society at the turn of the century, which is really helpful for understanding, but can get to be a little much. Also, since I (kind of) know Buffalo, I spent half the book just trying to orient myself in the city as Louisa wandered around making house calls. I did enjoy learning about the electrical development and the Pan- Am exposit ...more
Oct 22, 2012 Gloria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book very much. The city is Buffalo and the history is not that we'll known to thos of us not from around Buffalo. I knew a president was assisted here and where, but I did not know about the history of electricity at Niagara Falls. It was a good story and gave good background in the history of the early 1900's in that place. Just the picture of traveling in winter on a sleigh with sleigh bells amidst the snow made me think about how much nicer some things were in the past than th ...more
I was disappointed with this book. Because of the excellent writing and intriguing setting, I was instantly hooked. However, as the book went on I felt as if the author had researched every bad thing that happened in Buffalo from 1900-1909 and decided to exploit them. I am all for enlightening readers to the downfalls of government, society, or business, but there should be more to the book than that. I kept waiting for something likable to happen and it never did. The lead character Louisa, was ...more
Sep 03, 2008 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great historical fiction and a marvelous story. Buffalo around the turn of the century became alive, and I now feel I must visit Niagra Falls. The Falls were depicted so that they were both very frightening and at the same time beautiful. The only complaint I have with the book is that I believe the child Grace, her characterization didn't ring true. Maybe simply I am wrong and times have changed - that children were more naive and unknowlegeable then. I just kind of think that children do under ...more
Nate D
Dec 15, 2008 Nate D rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noir
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 02, 2011 Dianne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
City of Light takes a snapshot of a very specific period and place, Spring 1901 in Buffalo. As an historical novel, the city of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and The Pan American Exposition become characters that are as well developed as the narrator Louisa Barrett. The many other characters, each with distinct personalities and personal motives paint a true picture of society and it's complexity. However, I read this book over a long period with other books taking priority, which says a lot. While I a ...more
May 14, 2012 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The main character and her story line are fiction, but the places, events and people are actually based on historical occurances that happened in Buffalo, NY, which is my home town.

Set in the Pan-Am era (early 1900s), Buffalo was once one of the country's richest cities, due to the Erie Canal and Niagara Falls. It was interesting reading about familiar places, buildings and streets, which are all a part of the Queen City's fascinating history. I would love to have been able to see Buffalo in it'
Joy H.
Added 9/7//12. About city of Buffalo, NY.
Recommended by Nina from my group.
I couldn't get into it. Too many uninteresting details. I decided not to read it.
See following GR review by Tim which mentions some of the things which made me decide not to read the book:
Tim wrote: "Meh. I really wanted to like this, but it was a struggle. First, history isn't so much inter-weaved as it is patched on. It's jarring to just have historical anecdotes thrown in like fo
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Seneca Falls Inheritance (Glynis Tryon, #1)
  • The Prince of Eden (Eden, #2)
  • The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of the New New York
  • The Night Inspector
  • Ask Alice
  • Broken Promises
  • Rebels of Babylon (Abel Jones, #6)
  • Down the Common: A Year in the Life of a Medieval Woman
  • A Bloodsmoor Romance
  • The Notorious Dr. August : His Real Life and Crimes
  • Chains of Folly (Magdalene la Batarde, #4)
  • Summer of the Big Bachi (Mas Arai, #1)
  • Unravelling
  • The Prodigal Women
  • Enjoy Every Sandwich: Living Each Day as If It Were Your Last
  • Paradise Alley
  • The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the People Who Raised Them
  • Brookland
Lauren Belfer grew up in Buffalo, New York, and decided to become a writer when she was six years old. By the time she was in high school, her literary work was receiving rejection letters from all the best publications. Some of these letters included the initials of the person doing the rejecting, which she interpreted as encouragement. After graduating from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in Medi ...more
More about Lauren Belfer...

Share This Book

“In those days, Buffalo was flush in an era of extraordinary economic prosperity and civic optimism. The city had become the most important inland port in America because of its pivotal location at the eastern end of the Great Lakes. Indeed, at the turn of our century, Buffalo had taken its place among the great cities of the United States.” 0 likes
More quotes…