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City of Light

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  3,591 Ratings  ·  525 Reviews
It is 1901 and Buffalo, New York, stands at the center of the nation's attention as a place of immense wealth and sophistication. The massive hydroelectric power development at nearby Niagara Falls and the grand Pan-American Exposition promise to bring the Great Lakes "city of light" even more repute.

Against this rich historical backdrop lives Louisa Barrett, the attractiv
ebook, 512 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by The Dial Press (first published 1999)
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May 08, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 12, 2012 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 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 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 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 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 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 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
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Shelly Sweeney
Jun 21, 2014 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 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
Sep 02, 2012 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
May 13, 2012 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'
Steve Griffin
Jul 31, 2016 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 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.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Jan 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adrienne Snape
Dec 20, 2012 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
Aug 23, 2014 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
Apr 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had read this author's other book ( A Fierce Radiance) and really liked it so I was motivated to read this one. She does a good job of presenting factual issues in a fictional setting. This book takes place in Buffalo, NY and is about the mass production of electricity at the turn of the century. Since I spend time near there every summer at Chautauqua, NY, I was most interested in reading it. Surprisingly, I almost gave up. It took a while for the story to capture my interest. Once it did how ...more
Oct 22, 2012 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
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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
More about Lauren Belfer...

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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.” 0 likes
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