The Mirage Factory

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—bone-dry, harborless, isolated by deserts and mountain ranges—seemed destined to remain scrappy ranch- and farmland. Then, as if overnight, one of the world’s iconic cities emerged. At the heart of Los Angeles’s meteoric rise were three flawed visionaries: William Mulholland, an immigrant ditchdigger turned self-taught engineer, who designed the massive aqueduct that would make urban life there possible; D. W. Griffith, who transformed the motion picture from a vaudeville-house novelty into a cornerstone of American culture and gave L.A. its signature industry; and Aimee Semple McPherson, a charismatic evangelist who founded a religion and cemented the city’s identity as a center for spiritual exploration.

All were masters of their craft, but also illusionists, of a kind. The images they conjured up—of a blossoming city in the desert, of a factory of celluloid dreamworks, of a community of seekers attaining personal salvation under the California sun—were like mirages liable to evaporate on closer inspection. To realize these dreams, moreover, all three would have to pay a steep price, in a crescendo of hubris, scandal, and catastrophic failure of design that threatened to topple each of their personal empires. Yet when the dust settled, the mirage that was L.A. remained.

Spanning the years from 1900 to 1930, The Mirage Factory is the enthralling tale of an improbable city and the people who willed it into existence by pushing the limits of human engineering and imagination.



“As a writer, Krist is a dream-weaver…exquisite pacing and seamless shifting between the characters allow their stories to connect….I’ve read dozens of histories of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and none are as viscerally compelling or as clear in detailed descriptions of the complicated machinations as Krist’s account….Krist’s book is so good that, like the best movies, it ends up inverting the genre.” —The Washington Post

“Gary Krist is a city whisperer as well as a brilliant writer. He shows the soul of L.A. through the lives of three dreamers who helped conjure out of a sleepy town the foundation for an improbable and profoundly influential metropolis. A vastly entertaining and informative book, even for someone who has spent more than half his life here.”—ERIC LAX, author of Start to Finish

“Gary Krist, who earlier portrayed crises in early-twentieth-century New Orleans and Chicago, now vividly captures booming Los Angeles in all its emerging glory. He does it through well-chosen and keenly executed portraits of three famous (and deeply flawed) evangelists—for water, for motion pictures, for Jesus—who shaped the city we know today.”—GREG MITCHELL, author of The Tunnels

“A captivating portrayal of the City of Angels, told through the lives of three of its most colorful creators. Gary Krist has captured the moment when Los Angeles became the world’s most fascinating city.”—JOHN BUNTIN, author of L.A. Noir

“Engrossing…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.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Krist’s] dramatic portrayals of politics, scandals, sabotage, and bombings make for a rich, rewarding read….An entertaining, intertwined tale of triumph, hubris, and Manifest Destiny in the city of angels.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Krist’s engaging prose and intriguing subjects, all of whom are clearly well researched, make this a definite page turner.”—Library Journal

“A revealing and often fascinating exploration of the growth of a great city.”—Booklist