West of Eden by
Publication Date: 2016-02-09
“Stein gives a sort of aerial view of five Los Angeles clans that amassed fortunes in the 20th century:[...] subjects [that] largely shaped the public imagination of the city [....T]his time instead of the decaying effect of hereditary wealth there is the explosive fallout of the quick trips up the class ladder that are a California specialty.[…]It’s possible that oral history as Stein practices it — with historians and other not personally involved experts in the mix, […] — is as close as we’re going to come to the real story of anything.”—Maria Russo, New York Times
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * An epic, mesmerizing oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles from the author of the contemporary classic Edie Jean Stein transformed the art of oral history in her groundbreaking book Edie: American Girl, an indelible portrait of Andy Warhol "superstar" Edie Sedgwick, which was edited with George Plimpton. Now, in West of Eden, she turns to Los Angeles, the city of her childhood. Stein vividly captures a mythic cast of characters: their ambitions and triumphs as well as their desolation and grief. These stories illuminate the bold aspirations of five larger-than-life individuals and their families. West of Eden is a work of history both grand in scale and intimate in detail. At the center of each family is a dreamer who finds fortune and strife in Southern California: Edward Doheny, the Wisconsin-born oil tycoon whose corruption destroyed the reputation of a U.S. president and led to his own son's violent death; Jack Warner, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, who together with his brothers founded one of the world's most iconic film studios; Jane Garland, the troubled daughter of an aspiring actress who could never escape her mother's schemes; Jennifer Jones, an actress from Oklahoma who won the Academy Award at twenty-five but struggled with despair amid her fame and glamour. Finally, Stein chronicles the ascent of her own father, Jules Stein, an eye doctor born in Indiana who transformed Hollywood with the creation of an unrivaled agency and studio. In each chapter, Stein paints a portrait of an outsider who pins his or her hopes on the nascent power and promise of Los Angeles. Each individual's unyielding intensity pushes loved ones, especially children, toward a perilous threshold. West of Eden depicts the city that has projected its own image of America onto the world, in all its idealism and paradox. As she did in Edie, Jean Stein weaves together the personal recollections of an array of individuals to create an astonishing tapestry of a place like no other. Praise for West of Eden "Compulsively readable, capturing not just a vibrant part of the history of Los Angeles--that uniquely 'American Place' Stein refers to in her subtitle--but also the real drama of this town . . . It's like being at an insider's cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people, such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller and Dennis Hopper. . . . Mesmerizing."--Los Angeles Times "Perhaps the most surprising thing that emerges from this riveting book is a glimpse of what seems like deep truth. It's possible that oral history as Stein practices it . . . is as close as we're going to come to the real story of anything."--The New York Times Book Review "Enthralling . . . brings some of [L.A.'s] biggest personalities to life . . . As she did for Edie Sedgwick in Edie: American Girl, [Stein] harnesses a gossipy chorus of voices."--Vogue "Even if you're a connoisseur of Hollywood tales, you've probably never heard these. . . . As ever, gaudy, debauched, merciless Hollywood has the power to enthrall its audience."--The Wall Street Journal "The tales of jaw-dropping excess, cruelty, and betrayal are the stuff of movies, and the pleasures are immense."--Vanity Fair "This riveting oral history chronicles the development of Los Angeles, from oil boomtown to Tinseltown."--Entertainment Weekly ("Must List")
Here are the questions we discussed on January 25, 2017:
• What did you think of the writing technique, i.e. the oral histories woven into a biography?
• Did the book change or enhance your view of the industry in Hollywood? How? Why?/Why not?
• Who was the most surprising person involved in this book for you?
• Who, of the oral history group, do you think added the most insight to this book?
• How did place figure in this book? Why did the author include the addresses on the chapters?
• How did you reconcile the current oral histories and the ones that appeared to be from another time or an unpublished book?
• How do you think the editor shaped this book?
• Why do you think she wanted to write this book?
• Does money and power corrupt here? How/how not? What was money and powers effect on these families?
• Which of the five families/stories was most compelling for you?
• How were these families related?
• Do you want to read more of this author’s works? Why? Why not?
• What did you like/not like about the book?
• Do you have any questions you would like to ask the group?