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West of Eden: An American Place (Paperback)

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I didn't expect to be reminded of Edie Sedgwick, an Andy Warhol protege of the 60s, twice in consecutive months. There Edie was in a 50 year retrospective of video art in the very earliest featured video at Lansing's Broad Museum. And her name surfaced again for me as I read West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein, an enormously engaging and moving oral history of several of the houses and families, and thus the names behind some famous streets and institutions of Los Angeles. Looking at Stein's credits, I discovered that Jean Stein  had also co-written Edie: American Girl, one of the few oral histories I enjoyed reading cover to cover. If you know Brooke Hayward's memoir Haywire, some of the families in Eden will be familiar. Surely Jennifer Jones, the ex-wife of actor/suicide Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train), and widow of both David O. Selznick and museum founder Norton Simon, is one of Hollywood's strangest and most enigmatic stars. The glamorous lives of these Hollywood families are heavily laced with mental illness, abandonment, and suicide. West of Eden is a gripping cultural history behind the front doors of a city that through its movies, came to define us to the world.

— From Carla's Picks


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 the Author

Jean Stein was the longtime editor of Grand Street magazine and a former editor at The Paris Review. She was the author of American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy, an oral history with interviews by Stein and edited by George Plimpton; Edie: American Girl, which was edited with Plimpton; and West of Eden: An American Place, an oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780812987935
ISBN-10: 0812987934
Publisher: Random House Trade
Publication Date: February 21st, 2017
Pages: 352
Language: English