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City of Light

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  4,505 ratings  ·  623 reviews
The year is 1901. Buffalo, New York, is poised for glory. With its booming industry and newly electrified streets, Buffalo is a model for the century just beginning.

Louisa Barrett has made this dazzling city her home. Headmistress of Buffalo’s most prestigious school, Louisa is at ease in a world of men, protected by the titans of her city. But nothing prepares her for a
Paperback, 512 pages
Published August 26th 2003 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published 1999)
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Hannah Hamner No idea. haha. BUT! I did read that the chocolate bar "Baby Ruth" was supposedly named after the daughter of Grover Cleveland who passed away. …moreNo idea. haha. BUT! I did read that the chocolate bar "Baby Ruth" was supposedly named after the daughter of Grover Cleveland who passed away. (less)

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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  4,505 ratings  ·  623 reviews

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May 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical
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...
Sarah Mac
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.
Lorin Cary
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the only books I’ve read with a historical basis in American history outside of wartime, this novel opened a window to a realm of our history I had no knowledge of, and did it with such clarity and such empathetic characterization, it must be rated A+. Belfer’s portrait of the male community leaders and the incredible power they wielded over even highly independent women was most enlightening, though I suspect that’s one aspect of society that has changed less than I might imagine, at lea ...more
Jul 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Justine Janora
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Elyse Hayes
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Shelly Sweeney
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sonja Livingston
Oct 17, 2010 rated it liked it
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
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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'
Steve Griffin
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
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.
Shonna Froebel
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Character was annoying.
Made bad decisions just to appear independent.
Kelly Ambrose
Nov 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Other than being set in Buffalo, this book was largely a disaster.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don’t frequently get to describe historical fiction as intersectional feminist, but Lauren Belfer’s City of Light falls into that heading. And it’s also loads of fun. Belfer mixes prose styles from Daphne Du Maurier and Margaret Atwood, with the drama of a Soap Opera, and the heart and tragedy of Little Women. Worth a read if you can handle all that.
Amy Gennaro
Feb 15, 2021 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book set upon the backdrop of the advent of an electric powered country. It is a similar fight that still exists today----those who choose to embrace new technologies, and those who seek to keep the status quo.

The story weaves together several historic threads including stories of both President Grover Cleveland and McKinley, the advent of industrialization due to electricity, and the world fair

It was an intriguing book, but seems to have combined a few too many coincid
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
New favorite book? I think maybe.
Mary Beth
Dec 13, 2020 rated it liked it
A story about the building of the electric plant at Niagara Falls-shrouded in several mysteries, the story should have pulled me in and moved me with wonder, but it was often plodding and boring and pretentious. I debated with myself often about bothering to finish it. It provided just enough bursts of interest to keep me going. Overall, ho-hum.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good mix of fact and fiction. If you are from Buffalo, NY, you will enjoy this tale of the early years of the 1900's. ...more
Jan 22, 2008 rated it liked it
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Lauren Belfer’s most recent novel, AND AFTER THE FIRE, received the inaugural Book Club Award of the 2016 National Jewish Book Awards.

Lauren 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 p

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“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.” 1 likes
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