City of Light

City of Light

One of my favourite books is City of Light by Lauren Belfer and every few years I justify a re-read.

I lived in Buffalo for a year of my PhD in 1999 and felt that its reputation as the ‘armpit of America’ was very unfair given its amazing history and legacy. It has a Frank Lloyd Wright house, a Frederick Law Olmstead park, what was the US’ largest office building for 16 years when it was built, musuems, galleries and excellent educational institutions, in one of which I was lucky enough to see Betty Friedan speak. Buffalo boasts an American president born here, the assignation of another, and a swearing in of a third. It was once one of America’s most important cities and a hotbed of cultural life that sat alongside industrial expansion and invention.

This history is brought to life in City Of Light. It was particularly poignant to me as I regularly walked the streets it describes when I first read it and my friends lived on the site of what had been the great Pan American Exposition of 1901. I was reminded of City of the Light the other day when we were discussing at work great Victorian inventions and the birth of electricity.

The book carefully describes the social life of the day and the position of women within it. It is centred around the growth of a power company generating electricity from nearby Niagara Falls and the lives of those touched by the industry. It has political intrigue, murder, love and secrecy at its heart and transports you entirely to the era.

So many people I know have visited Niagara but have not bothered to stop off in Buffalo. I would highly recommend both reading this excellent and extremely enjoyable book and then walking the streets of Buffalo to feel its history.