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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  840 ratings  ·  146 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
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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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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. ...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: 2020, history
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
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.
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
Halley Sutton
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulously interesting history of early Los Angeles. Makes me feel closer to my city.
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I am both fascinated with and disappointed by Los Angeles, so I was eager to read about its history and growth from a deserty backwater to large metropolis . The story is told primary through the lens of the rise and fall of William Mulholland (development/water rights), D.W. Griffith (Hollywood/film-making), and Aimee Semple McPherson (evangelism/Foursquare Church). This is clearly well-researched, and perfect for those who are, like me, drawn to the City of Angels.
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history of the origins of Los Angeles; apparently there's always been a traffic problem. 😀 Extra fun now that I know the area better.
I enjoyed it. It's about three people living between 1900 and 1920 who Mr. Krist claimed made Los Angeles grow from an average American West Coast city to a famous metropolis.

William Muholland was the man responsible for an aquaduct that brought millions of gallons of water to Los Angeles in the early 1900s, when the population of the city was becoming too large to accommodate the existing water supply. That he used some big-city trickery to get the water rights from the farmers and ranchers of
Brenden Gallagher
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Los Angeles even if I don't love America.

And in loving something, you are often tempted to try and explain it. But, one of the things I love about LA is how difficult it is to explain. There are plenty of ways you could explain how Los Angeles became to be what it is today, and to do a complete job would be impossible with just one text. But Gary Krist does about a good a job with "The Mirage Factory" as you possibly could.

As Krist tells it, there are three key components to Los Angeles
Randy Wilson

Mr. Krist is right to focus on the first thirty years of the 20th century as the period of LA's transformation but I don't think two of his subjects do much to explain the rise. He uses the lives of Angelenos William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith and Aimee Semple McPherson to explain this phenomenon. Mulholland is a requirement because LA makes no sense as a teeming metropolis of millions unless there is enough water to drink. Mulholland made sure that happened.

The movies were essential to creating

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“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
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