The White Album
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An extraordinary report on the aftermath of the 1960s in America by the New York Times–bestselling author of South and West and Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
In this landmark essay collection, Joan Didion brilliantly interweaves her own “bad dreams” with those of a nation confronting the dark underside of 1960s counterculture.
From a jailhouse visit to Black Panther Party cofounder Huey Newton to witnessing First Lady of California Nancy Reagan pretend to pick flowers for the benefit of news cameras, Didion captures the paranoia and absurdity of the era with her signature blend of irony and insight. She takes readers to the “giddily splendid” Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the cool mountains of Bogotá, and the Jordanian Desert, where Bishop James Pike went to walk in Jesus’s footsteps—and died not far from his rented Ford Cortina. She anatomizes the culture of shopping malls—“toy garden cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes”—and exposes the contradictions and compromises of the women’s movement. In the iconic title essay, she documents her uneasy state of mind during the years leading up to and following the Manson murders—a terrifying crime that, in her memory, surprised no one.
Written in “a voice like no other in contemporary journalism,” The White Album is a masterpiece of literary reportage and a fearless work of autobiography by the National Book Award–winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking (The New York Times Book Review). Its power to electrify and inform remains undiminished nearly forty years after it was first published.
“A splendid reporter . . . Nonpareil . . . Language is her seismograph and style her sanity. Nobody writes better English prose than Joan Didion.” —John Leonard, The New York Times
“All of the essays—even the slightest—manifest not only [Didion’s] intelligence, but an instinct for details that continue to emit pulsations in the reader’s memory and a style that is spare, subtly musical in its phrasing and exact. Add to these her highly vulnerable sense of herself, and the result is a voice like no other in contemporary journalism.” —The New York Times Book Review
“[Didion] can strike at the heart, or the absurdity, of a matter in our contemporary wasteland with quick, graceful strokes.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Didion manages to make the sorry stuff of troubled times (bike movies, for instance, and Bishop James Pike) as interesting and suggestive as the monuments that win her dazzled admiration (Georgia O’Keeffe, the Hoover Dam, the mountains around Bogota). . . . A timely and elegant collection.” —The New Yorker
“No one describes the cultural reverberations of the Manson murders as acutely as Joan Didion. . . . [She] weaves subtly horrifying details to reflect the strange fear that loomed over Los Angeles County in the months following.” —Rolling Stone
“[Didion] has created, in her books, one of the most devastating and distinctive portraits of modern America to be found in fiction or nonfiction. . . . [The White Album] demonstrates Didion’s range as an essayist, her ability not only to portray the extraordinary and apocalyptic, but also to appreciate the ordinary.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Joan Didion is the author of five novels, ten works of nonfiction, and a play. Her books include Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It as It Lays, The White Album, The Year of Magical Thinking, and, most recently, South and West: From a Notebook. Born in Sacramento, California, she lives in New York City.