West of Eden by Jean Stein
An American Place

63%

15 Critic Reviews

People have always loved gossip and I am no exception, but the relentless dishing of dirt here is no fun at all, devoid even of the debased pleasure of Schadenfreude.
-Washington Times

Synopsis

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”)


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Jean Stein

See more books from this Author
A former editor of The Paris Review and Esquire and the longtime editor of Grand Street magazine, JEAN STEIN is the author of the oral history American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy and Edie: American Girl. She is widely recognized as a leading innovator in the art of oral history. Originally from Los Angeles, she lives in New York City.
Author Residence: New York, NY
Author Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
 
Published February 9, 2016 by Random House. 354 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography, Westerns, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Feb 28 2016
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for West of Eden
All: 15 | Positive: 10 | Negative: 5

Kirkus

Above average
on Dec 06 2015

Through interviews with remnants of a long-gone Hollywood, a vivid sense of some of the great formative families emerges...Slips occasionally into hearsay and grievance but rivets readers with “a kind of fascinated horror.”

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Jan 14 2016

Stein’s exhaustive research and brand-new interviews make this an invaluable resource for any student of pop culture, or indeed of 20th-century American history.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Maria Russo on Feb 16 2016

In a book that’s a study of the fleeting nature of worldly power, Stein, now 82, has grabbed for herself the only kind that lasts: She’s the one left standing, who gets to tell the story.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Feb 04 2016

Despite its provenance, “West of Eden” is strangely unfocused, especially when compared with Ms. Stein’s indelible “Edie.” Both are oral histories, but “Edie” (1982) had a mesmerizing focal point...

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Anthony Quinn on Feb 17 2016

West of Eden is a book that keeps offering. It caters to our junk appetite for gossip about the rich and shameless, and leaves us curiously empty. Maybe that is its point. But it could have been so much more.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Peter Conrad on Feb 01 2016

Eventually Stein lays bare her personal history. Her father, Jules Stein, founded the monopolistic talent agency MCA, and discreetly relied on mobsters with crooked noses to run interference...

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Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by Danny Leigh on Feb 05 2016

Stein’s style is addictive: briskly intercut (rarely does one voice claim a full page), unafraid that gossipy asides will lessen its gravity. And like Chandler, like James Ellroy, like Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust, West of Eden sees something primally rotten in the bedrock of the city.

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Washington Times

Below average
Reviewed by Martin Rubin on May 22 2016

People have always loved gossip and I am no exception, but the relentless dishing of dirt here is no fun at all, devoid even of the debased pleasure of Schadenfreude.

Read Full Review of West of Eden: An American Place | See more reviews from Washington Times

Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by ISABELLA BIEDENHARN on Feb 11 2016

It’s less clear why Stein included the final three chapters on Jane Garland, Jennifer Jones, and her own family, the Steins, none of whom had the same cultural impact. Still, there’s nothing like delighting in others’ misery.

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The Independent

Above average
Reviewed by Christopher Fowler on Feb 14 2016

The obliquely unfolding memoirs are an amalgam of Chinatown and The Day of the Locust, exposing a familiar theme; that the trappings of profligate wealth ultimately become a prison and a source of corruption.

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The Telegraph

Excellent
Reviewed by Gaby Wood on Jan 24 2016

The total effect of West of Eden is like reading a secret diary and looking at a geologist’s diagram at the same time: with each intimate revelation, the precise stratification of the world’s most glamorous and closed society becomes clear.

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St. Louis Today

Above average
Reviewed by Tim Bross on Feb 13 2016

Jean Stein is perhaps uniquely qualified to do this kind of book. Her Hollywood upbringing gave her access to the right people, and probably the savvy to ask the right questions and to detect a good deal of the deception inherent in any as-told-to book.

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London Review of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Andrew O’Hagan on Mar 03 2016

What Stein has really put together is a book of friends, most of whom remember how it was, and how it was once so difficult to say how it was.

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London Evening Standard

Above average
Reviewed by Mark Sanderson on Feb 04 2016

While the Technicolor tour is relentlessly fascinating, it is reassuring to be shown in black and white that, in La-La Land at least, with the millions comes endless misery.

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The Rumpus

Above average
Reviewed by LAURA TURNER on Mar 15 2016

They didn’t require embellishing for Sunset Boulevard, and, as Stein has shown with West of Eden, the truth stands alone again. It is full of bad people getting bad news and behaving badly, which is just the way we like Hollywood to be.

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