Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Mirage Factory

Title:  The Mirage Factory:  Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles
Author:  Gary Krist
Publication Information:  Crown. 2018. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0451496388 / 978-0451496386

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The gatehouse blew shortly after one a.m. - a powerful blast that ricocheeted off the wall of mountains to the west and resounded across the dark, lonely valley."

Favorite Quote:  "That this megalopolis had grown up in such an unlikely place was, in retrospect, little short of miraculous - a bravura act of self-invention reooted in a culture of titanic engineeing and cunning artifice. Beginning with its conjuring of an oasis in the desert, an achievement itself made possible only through a campaign of deception and elusive intentions, the city had attracted the population it needed by selling another mirage:  a lifestyle image of leisure, health, easy prosperity, adn spiritual fulfillment, all in a a place where it never rains or turns cold."

Say the city name Los Angeles and it conjures up an image. Sunny days. Beautiful beaches. Crowded streets of a buzzing metropolis. The glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Hillside homes of the rich and famous. What it does not conjure is the image with which this book begins. "Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California—bone-dry, harbor-less, isolated by deserts and mountain ranges—seemed destined to remain scrappy farmland."

This book follows the history of the city from 1900 to 1930, during which time the population grew from about 100,000 to over 1 million. More than that, it follows the contributions of three individulas who were instrumental in that growth:
  • William Mulholland — The Engineer — engineered a marvel and brought fresh water to a basin bounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. The Los Angeles Aqueduct   is over 200 miles long and brings fresh water from the Owens River in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles.
  • D. W. Griffith — The Artist — is considered a pioneer of modern cinema. He was in fact one fo the founders of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (the organization behind the Oscars). The cinematic techniques he introduced changed the industry and the future of Hollywood and hence Los Angeles.
  • Aimee Semple McPherson — The Evangelist — came to Los Angeles because of a vision. Sister Annie, as she was known, established The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, an evangelical Pentecostal Christian denomination commonly referred to as the Foursquare Church. She is also credited for building the first megachurch in the country and for mobilizing followers and contributers through the use of the media.
What makes this story - and it is a story - more fascinating is the flawed and checkered history of these three individuals. William Mulholland's career ended when a dam he inspected and cleared failed. D. W. Griffith was known for and ostracized by many for the racist content of his films. Aimee McPherson was accused of fabricating her own kidnapping. It is these individuals that give this history its Hollywood flair. Despite their failures, these individuals left an indelible imprint on the city. "By the mid-twentieth century, then, the Artist, the Evangelis, and the Engineer were all gone from the scene, but the marks they had left were evident everywhere."

Because of the colorful facts of this history and the storytelling style of the writing, this book makes a quick read. Don't get me wrong. The research and the factual details are all meticulously presented. They are simply packaged in an easy to read narrative.

A note about this reader: I am not from Los Angeles but have visited. I don't have a particular interest in Los Angeles history but rather an interest in history overall. Until this book, I was not familiar with this aspect of history. I don't know if it is because of these reasons or despite these reasons that I found myself a receptive audience for this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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