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

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

Gary Krist. Crown, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-0-451-49638-6

Krist (Empire of Sin) reveals how a rural backwater was transformed into a verdant multicultural metropolis through ingenuity, chicanery, and hyperbole in this engrossing history of Los Angeles. Focusing on the years 1900 through 1930, Krist draws from historic documents and firsthand accounts to show how the use of new technology in film production and mass media seduced hopeful dreamers westward with inspirational words and promises of unlimited opportunity. He credits three flawed and ambitious visionaries with the city’s meteoric rise: self-taught engineer William Mulholland, who designed the water system that made urbanization possible; film director D.W. Griffith, who overcame meddling film bosses to transform motion pictures into a lucrative industry; and charismatic evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, a pioneering faith healer and radio show host who “founded her own religion and cemented southern California’s reputation as a national hub for seekers of unorthodox spirituality and self-realization.” With a gift for evocative phrasing (“The images they conjured up... all had elements of the swindle about them, like mirages whose heady promises could evaporate on closer inspection”), Krist serves up intricate stories, rich period atmosphere, and colorful personalities to capture the zeitgeist of this eventful period. The result is a rollicking jaunt through L.A.’s early days. (May)