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Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach Hardcover – January 20, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Guest Reviewer: Meryl Gordon, Author of Mrs. Astor Regrets

Just the name--Palm Beach--conjures up an American fantasy of wealth, privilege and exclusivity. Laurence Leamer, in his well-written and entertaining new book, Madness Under the Royal Palms, offers up an inside look at this playground of the rich, and its under-class of social-climbing wannabes. Tracing the history of Palm Beach and its magnificent real estate, describing the fabulous parties, investigating some of the city's sordid secrets, Leamer's book provides a memorable, and at times haunting, portrayal of high society at a moment of transition, where things are often not what they seem.

From Publishers Weekly

Leamer (The Kennedy Women) reveals the secrets of the Palm Beach elite who reside behind the high walls and manicured hedges of this exclusive enclave. A winter resident since 1994, the author gains the trust of his subjects, playing tennis with them and attending their parties. Such firsthand experience is supplemented by newspaper articles and interviews with scores of men and women who, although usually guarded, are unusually open to Leamer (the informant for the chapter Palm Beach Millionaire Seeks Playmate gave the author access to his personal papers, including unpublished memoirs). The book's highly visual vignettes—dominated by divorce, infidelity, excessive drinking and violence—produce a depressing picture of sad, angry, insecure and frequently nasty people hiding behind empty smiles, luxury cars and socially invisible servants. Leamer reflects: Like [Henry] James, I found that few of the lives have the beauty of the surroundings, or the depths of the artistic vision that inspired this island. Some readers may find this book a penetrating portrayal of a privileged segment of the American population; others might regard it as a book-length gossip column. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; 1 edition (January 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401322913
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401322915
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,162,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Back in the seventies, bestselling author Laurence Leamer worked in a West Virginia coal mine. Four decades later that led him back to coal country to write his newest book, The Price of Justice, the story of two Pittsburgh lawyers and their more than decade long struggle to bring Don Blankenship, the chair of Massey Energy, to justice. It's a compelling story that John Grisham calls "superb...This is a book I wish I had written."

Customer Reviews

I found the book to be generally boring, and uninteresting.
While I'd like to think I'm above this preoccupation with the details of other people's lives, the reality is that I couldn't put the book down.
A great study of Palm Beach and the unique flavor of that rarified milieu.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 105 people found the following review helpful By Coffee Infusion on January 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Given the name and uber wealthy playground about which Madness was written, I was expecting an oblique assault on an elitist and secretive sliver of society suspected of profligate spending, narcissism and caste systems.

Instead, I found that the book is more of an amusing anthropological study that offered layers of depth and insight into individuals, relationships and social groups. The result is a humorous parable with some heavy moral lessons.

Leamer used multiple sources to build a penetrating character analysis of some of the more notable Palm Beach residents who, as an aggregate, are symbols of the various cliques that define the essence of Palm Beach.

While it's a non fiction work, it has the literary ardor, flow, and the readability of a sticky novel you can't put down. The structure and clever collation of the vignettes is creative; like a movie that presents a montage of time periods in a character's life, Leamer seamlessly builds the story, jumping from one vignette to the next, and then taking us backwards and forwards in time. As you move through the book, the building of the individual events sculpts the big picture, and lives are viewed through different lenses. The result is a story that comes together so artfully, that it's hard to believe it's non fiction. For this reason, among others, Leamer has become a favorite contemporary writer.

As Leamer draws us into his world and follows the lives of the characters, like with Aesop's Fables, we cannot help but predict the tragic outcomes of the paths they have chosen.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Paulette Cooper Noble on January 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I live in palm Beach and saw a copy because a friend of mine was mentioned in it and once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. It's absolutely fascinating and filled with interesting little stories. I don't think you have to live here to enjoy it.
It reminded me of "Midnight in the Garden of Eden," only there were more characters in this one so it was a very lively read. Very definitely recommended for those who like to read about the rise and fall of the rich.
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70 of 82 people found the following review helpful By david brown on February 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I hadn't planned to comment on this book but after reading the existing "five star" comments I felt that some balance was required. The book is presented as an "insiders" look at Palm Beach by an author who has lived there for more than a decade. However, as with any community, there are different social circles. The author has far more access to what I would characterize as low level hustlers, most that he met on "public" tennis courts (hardly Palm Beach exclusivity) but apparently no real access to the "establishment" per se. The author does a commendable job in bringing these characters to life and, in this regard, I can strongly recommend the book to readers. However, in the broader sociological context, the book has little to offer that is unique. For example the author writes at length about the probable discrimination against Jews in traditional clubs. However this has been a staple of books on Palm Beach for the past fifty years or more and, in this regard, there is simply no new information presented by the author to differentiate this book. Towards the end of the book the author does interview two purported representatives of the traditional WASP establishment in Palm Beach. While not perfect, they don't seem to share any of the author's desire to ruminate on the distinctions between the rich and poor, they do come across as far more humane and accomplished than any of the would be "socialites" elsewhere in the book. Quite frankly, if I were them, I wouldn't want to associate with any of these hustlers either. In summary I have given the book a three on the basis of colorful characters, many of whom would fit easily into an Elmore Leonard or Donald Westlake novel, but feel that the lack of unique insight into the broader issues prevents me from giving a higher rating.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on March 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Let me tell you about the very rich," begins the narrator of "The Rich Boy," F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story. "They are different from you and me." The truth of that observation, written more than 80 years ago, is brought home with the force of a hurricane in Laurence Leamer's engrossing, at times shocking, examination of Palm Beach society.

Leamer, who purchased a duplex a block north of Palm Beach's tony shopping street, Worth Avenue, in 1994, is something of a Nick Carrawayesque narrator. He shares the lives of his subjects, joining them for tennis games at the Breakers Club and attending some of the myriad social events around which life centers during the "season," when the population of the island triples. But Leamer, a former Newsweek editor who brings solid journalistic credentials to his task, never allows proximity to the world he's trying to capture dilute his objectivity. He's a consistently clear-eyed observer, with no illusions about the people he's describing and no awe of their wealth and power.

At least partially as promised in its subtitle, there's a surfeit of death in MADNESS --- a shooting, a suspected poisoning, a savage beating, a suicide and a death by fire --- all in the space of barely 10 years. The characters who swirl through the book encompass sociopaths like Fred Keller, whose bitter divorce battle (described in all its sordid detail) ends in a shattering act of violence, to the merely self-absorbed, a description that fits most of the rest of Leamer's subjects, including participants in the several May-December marriages that dot the book. Life in Palm Beach, Leamer writes, is like an "elaborate costume party in which one can wear whatever outfit one wants as long as the mask never falls.
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