Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles” as Want to Read:
The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,116 ratings  ·  171 reviews
A vivid account of the creation of modern Los Angeles, a city born from the fantasies of strong-willed visionaries, from bestselling author and masterful storyteller Gary Krist.

Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California was sleepy semi-desert farmland. Then, as if overnight, one of the world's largest and most iconic cities emerged. At the heart of th
Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Published May 15th 2018 by Crown
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 The Mirage Factory, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Mirage Factory

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

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,116 ratings  ·  171 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Mirage Factory is an extraordinary work tracing the early history of Los Angeles. Krist explores the path that the city took from a small backwater at the edge of the continent with no natural harbor to become one of the largest cities on earth (when counting the entire metropolitan area). Three stories are told here.

First, there's the story of the city's great engineer, William Mulholland, After whom the great mountain road traversing the Santa Monica's was named. Mulholland was a great vi
Blaine DeSantis
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another fine book by Gary Krist, who seems to have become a better non-fiction writer than novelist! This time he points his research and book at Los Angeles, a place I have always loved (heck I even went to Law School out there!). By focusing on three individuals, Krist shows how they developed this city from almost out of nowhere. William Mulholland figured out how to get water to the city; D.W. Griffith made Hollywood famous for his early film masterpieces; and Aimee Semple McPherson tapped i ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Los Angeles is an unusual city in that it was not a natural place for a settlement -- the area had been passed over in favor of Monterey, San Francisco, even San Diego, until the second half of the 19th century. It wasn't until about 1920 that the population of Los Angeles reached that of San Francisco. Gary Krist looks at three people who were part of the rise of Los Angeles in The Mirage Factory. His choice of hydraulic engineer William Mulholland seems obvious, since without some serious rero ...more
Dick Reynolds
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is one of the most enjoyable pieces of nonfiction that I’ve read in some time. Thanks to author Gary Krist’s story-telling ability it reads like an exciting novel.
The setting is the early 1900s as Los Angeles is coming to grips with a most pressing problem: the need for more water to satisfy the growing number of residents of a large desert-like farming area by the Pacific. Three people, each having vastly different backgrounds and life interests, are the essential narrators of the la
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve read a good bit about the early days of Los Angeles, so there were parts of this book that had me wondering if I’d read this one before. Obviously, no. But there are just only so many ways of describing an event.

Krist tells LA’s story by focusing on three people who were important in shaping the development of old LA: William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith, and Aimee Semple McPherson. Mulholland was the engineer who found a (temporary) solution to Los Angeles’s lack of water: drain the Owens Va
Maine Colonial
Think about it: Los Angeles is today one of the world’s principal cities, but it wasn’t until around 1900 that its population even reached 100,000. Its explosive development isn’t far out of living memory, which makes Los Angeles seem like an achievement of fantastic ambition and imagination. And that is how author Gary Krist approaches it.

Krist brings the birth of Los Angeles to life by showing us its state in the very early 1900s as a pokey, dusty town, unpromising because of its lack of a dee
Sean Courtney
I've been to Los Angeles once. When I was a kid. I think I was twelve years old. I've never even really thought about going back. I've never even thought that I'd like to visit. I've been to NYC a few times, San Francisco several times...plenty of other cities...but L.A. has never been on my radar, and now I think I'm ready to change that...maybe. Whether or not I ever decide to visit, I'll chalk my interest in visiting up to Krist's THE MIRAGE FACTORY, which is essentially a survey of the early ...more
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picking up about 20 years after "Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles," this book gives us the birth of modern Los Angeles, from 1900 to the 1930's. It covers DW Griffith, Cecil B DeMill and the early silent film industry, to William Mulholland and the infrastructure that brought water to Los Angeles, including the St. Francis Dam disaster, and though Aimee Semple McPherson (and her mysterious disappearance) ,Robert Schuller both in the early evangelist movement in Los A ...more
Scott  Hitchcock
Well told history of the population explosion of LA and all of its annexes, the film industry and all the characters who helped build it up. I never realized the impact of Mulholland and the water it takes to feed LA's needs.

D.W. Griffin's story from this side was interesting. I had known him as the filmmaker who directed the racist Birth of a Nation through books about WWI and Woodrow Wilson. A much more complicated character than portrayed in those histories.
Cian O hAnnrachainn
Los Angeles is an interesting bit of sprawl, and to read THE MIRAGE FACTORY is to come to an understanding on how that urban oasis came to be, in a most unlikely of spots.

Gary Krist does a fine job of presenting three separate narratives that describe well the events that shaped LA and guided the city towards significance. He begins with the story of Mr. Mulholland, the man who stole water from other areas so that LA could grow. Intertwined with the water saga is the brief history of D.W. Griff
John Behle
A solid three star. I liked this work by Gary Krist enough that I will seek out his other offerings. Krist paints the portrait of Los Angeles using three people from that era, William Mulholland, Aimee Semple McPherson, and D. W. Griffith.

My favorite thread is D. W. Griffith, pioneering Hollywood film director. The chapters on Griffith and the so-fast-rich, so-fast-fame yarns of early Hollywood read like a People magazine. A thinking person's People, without the gush.

Next I followed the 30 year
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Engaging account of principal people and influences on the growth of Los Angeles as a unique, major city
Apr 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-us
The Mirage Factory is the story of how 3 individuals--William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith, & Aimee Semple McPherson--contributed to the explosive growth of Los Angeles in the early decades of the 20th century. This is popular fiction at its best--interesting personalities, dramatic events, and truly inspired writing. I continually found myself thinking I was reading a great novel rather than a work of non-fiction.
Tim Martin
Very well-written and fast-reading combination history of the early years of Los Angeles (1900-1930) and biography of three dominant figures not only in those decades but in the founding of Los Angeles as it is known today, three people the author described as “the Artist, the Evangelist, and the Engineer.” Though the three figures were very marginally if at all connected in the particulars of their life (but definitely had parallels in the overall trajectories of their careers), their activitie ...more
Jt O'Neill
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I spent some time in the Los Angeles area and my mother grew up there so I was especially interested in reading this book about the early days of this city. Gary Krist does a great job of telling the stories of three individuals who played huge roles in the growth of Los Angeles in the early 1900's. The stories don't necessarily hinge on each other and so there isn't much overlap but they are happening concurrently and Mr Krist weaves seamlessly among the three stories. He is a genuine storytell ...more
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating book on the history of how Los Angeles became the city that it has become. I have seen previously other titles by Gary Krist on other big and famous cities and their history but this is the first time I have read his book. I gave this book a try because it focuses on Los Angeles and I have some roots and sentiments with this city. This book impressed me enough that I am considering reading other titles by Krist.
The book covers the 1900s to the 1930s. In those three decades
Sam Law
A look at the founding of the great city of Los Angeles, told in the third person viewpoint of three of its early legendary figures.

Read More Book Reviews on my blog It's Good To Read

Main Characters:
William Mulholland: Born in Dublin, Ireland, this single-minded workaholic transformed himself from an immigrant digger of ditches, to “The Chief”, serving the city of Los Angeles for over 50 years, rising to become the head of the powerful Department of Water.

D W (David Wark) Griffith: T
LAPL Reads
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination and the Invention of Los Angeles examines three historical figures who forged the development of Los Angeles as a metropolitan epicenter between 1900 and 1930. Krist, a journalist for the New York Times and Esquire, argues that three “visionaries” from L.A.’s storied past (city engineer William Mulholland, film director D.W. Griffith and evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson) ultimately ignited the technological, artististic and spiritual zeitgeist that beca ...more
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gary Krist brings us a fascinating story of the evolution of not only the city of Los Angeles, but of three remarkable people whose careers helped carve out a niche in the most unlikely areas of the American southwest: D.W. Griffith, Aimee Semple McPherson and William Mulholland.
"The Mirage Factory" is the history of how a rough frontier town sprang forth from a 450 square mile plot of a mostly hostile, desert landscape to a sprawling metropolis of over 2 million people in the scant period betwe
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Krist’s book is a history of the history of Los Angeles from approximately 1900 to 1930, by which time the influences that make Los Angeles what it today were in place. There were three – water, a physical need without which this desert city wouldn’t exist, the film industry which exploded the city’s population, and early religion, a forerunner of some of today’s southern California cults grew. Krist alternatively tracs each of these strands of Los Angeles history.

Three individuals were essent
Michael Burnam-Fink
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 2020
The Mirage Factory is a history of the birth of Los Angeles, from roughly 1900 to 1930, as seen through the biographies of three key people, each of whom built great things only to end in disgrace. William Mulholland brought water to the city, to the eternal damnation of the Owen's Valley. D.W. Griffith invented the grammar of the motion picture, and then failed to follow the industry he pioneered. Aimee Semple McPherson combined Pentecostal preaching with the new technology of radio to create a ...more
Sep 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shout out to John Mulaney for putting me on this path by telling Entertainment Weekly that this was his current read a few months ago. Big ups to the always amazing Springfield-Greene County Library for purchasing it for me.

Simply fascinating, this. Never having spent more than a week at a time there, I have an affinity for the City of Angels that I can't quite explain. My last pre-pandemic travel was to see the Horrorpops in L.A. Our honeymoon took us there and back again for our tenth anniver
Kaley Thornton
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew I’d love this given my penchant for all things LA, urban planning, and history. Gary Krist did not disappoint - I was impressed with how he wove so many complicated stories into (what I would consider to be, at least) a real page-turner. Even after working with and living in the City and County of LA, I never could have imagined all of the rich (and often dark) history behind its modern evolution. Highly recommend to anyone with a connection to LA, though it will likely leave you with som ...more
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
why would i, someone with deep connections to and great affection for the wonderful cities of phoenix and san francisco, read a history of their rival, los angeles? because mulaney recommended it, of course, and i trust him.

and he was right, it was amazing! the entire thesis of the book is just "before the fall when they wrote it on the wall/ when there wasn't even any hollywood/ they heard the call/ and they wrote it on the wall/ for you and me, we understood"
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I received a free copy of this book from Penguin First to Read program.

An interesting history of a city as told by three major players in its early years. Mirage Factory details the early years of Los Angeles from a small desert town to the seeds of what it has become today by following the careers and lives of the engineer Mulholland who brought water to the desert allowing it to grow, the director D.W. Griffith who played a major role in the birth of film and filmmaking in LA, and the evangel
Jared | beardedreading
The Mirage Factory is an illuminating blend of religion, entertainment, and the human condition. As the city-that-should-never-have-existed, Los Angeles is shown as a beacon of ingenuity, even though the road to genius is wrought with failure, mishaps, and sometimes death.
4.5 stars.
Alex Abboud
Interesting look at the development of Los Angeles in the early 20th century. Your mileage with this book will vary depending on how interesting you find the three characters and their respective industries - were I more interesting in the film industry and the evangelical movement I would have rated this higher.
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Fascinating listen on 3 influential people who made Los Angeles what it is today. I learned much, and it's interesting how the societal problems have not changed much in 100 years. ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting perspective on the early start of Los Angeles and the three larger than life characters that created the most impact in the early 20th Century. Between delivering water, creating a company town and establishing the start of (many) religious pursuits, author Gary Krist describes the DNA for Los Angeles that was established by the early 1930s. The book reads as though it is fiction although it is well-sourced and true. One hundred years later, we can still see the origin story play ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City
  • The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood
  • Time to Make the Donuts: The Founder of Dunkin Donuts Shares an American Journey
  • Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great Depression
  • California: A History
  • Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck
  • After Henry
  • The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom
  • The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice
  • Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
  • Amoralman: A True Story and Other Lies
  • City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s
  • We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Film
  • How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States
  • Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty
  • The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont
  • The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport
  • The Spy Wore Red
See similar books…

News & Interviews

What will you do when it's your turn to pick your book club's next read? Well, this is what you won't do: panic. Why not? Because we've dug...
101 likes · 22 comments
“the Spanish influenza epidemic had severely depressed box office receipts, as theaters in many cities were closed by government fiat and frightened moviegoers stayed home to avoid exposure to crowds. By 1919, the epidemic was tapering off, but the paranoia lingered. (Lillian Gish, who just barely survived a terrifying bout of flu before the filming of Broken Blossoms, claimed that Griffith refused to come within ten feet of her during rehearsals.) And as the 1920s began, the country was facing a postwar recession that would further complicate the economics of an industry heavily dependent on the free flow of disposable income among consumers nationwide.” 0 likes
More quotes…