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Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Modern Library) Hardcover – June 6, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"A slant vision that is arresting and unique . . . Didion might be an observer from another planet--one so edgy and alert that she ends up knowing more about our own world than we know ourselves."
        --Anne Tyler

"The story between the lines of Slouching Towards Bethlehem is surely not so much 'California' as it is [Didion's] ability to make us share her passionate sense of it."
        --Alfred Kazin

From the Inside Flap

Upon its publication in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem confirmed Joan Didion as one of the most prominent writers on the literary scene. Her unblinking vision and deadpan tone have influenced subsequent generations of reporters and essayists, changing our expectations of style, voice, and the artistic possibilities of nonfiction.
"In her portraits of people," The New York Times Book Review wrote, "Didion is not out to expose but to understand, and she shows us actors and millionaires, doomed brides and naïve acid-trippers, left-wing ideologues and snobs of the Hawaiian aristocracy in a way that makes them neither villainous nor glamorous, but alive and botched and often mournfully beautiful. . . . A rare display of some of the best prose written today in this country."
In essay after essay, Didion captures the dislocation of the 1960s, the disorientation of a country shredding itself apart with social change. Her essays not only describe the subject at hand--the murderous housewife, the little girl trailing the rock group, the millionaire bunkered in his mansion--but also offer a broader vision of America, one that is both terrifying and tender, ominous and uniquely her own.
Joyce Carol Oates has written, "Joan Didion is one of the very few writers of our time who approaches her terrible subject with absolute seriousness, with fear and humility and awe. Her powerful irony is often sorrowful rather than clever. . . . She has been an articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time, a memorable voice, partly eulogistic, partly despairing; always in control."

Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library ed edition (June 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679640266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679640264
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction. Joan Didion's Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River are available in Vintage paperback.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 70 people found the following review helpful By J. Jacobs VINE VOICE on September 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Didion's collection of essays was recommended to me by writing instructors as an example of excellent essay writing. I found it to be just that. In the first third, she writes a series of remarkable essays about California in the late 1960s. The middle third contains personal essays. And the book finishes with a collection of essays about different places she's been - New York, Hartford, Hawaii, Sacramento.

What makes her writing most impressive is her masterful presentation of portraits, inserting herself just occasionally to remind the reader of who the photographer was, to inject humanity. She does an excellent job combining place and character and shows that long sentences can work. This book is useful both an as example to those who aspire to writing better essays and as a memorable voice from the 1960s.
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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful By R. Walker on January 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Decades after the fact, this collection of essays is a bit of a period piece, but some of it holds up quite well. The subject of the famous title story -- which first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1967 -- is about the Haight Street scene and, more to the point, the breakdown of human connection that Didion believed that scene represented. She is similarly gloomy about New York in "Goodbye to All That," and about California in "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream." Though she was in her late 20s and early 30s when she wrote this material, she clearly saw much of what was going on in the 1960s as the activities of a different generation from her own. In any case it's these pieces, along with one about John Wayne, that stand out here, and remain, after all these years, pretty close to extraordinary. Some of the other material (a piece about Joan Baez, etc.) is less memorable. I bought this in the hardback Modern Library edition with a useless introductory essay by Elizabeth Hardwick (but a great photo of Didion on the front cover). Should've gone with paper.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful By bibliomane01 on October 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
This classic 1968 work is justly renowned as Joan Didion's finest collection of essays. Its central theme - and the theme behind much of what Didion writes - is the atomisation of American culture, the way in which things have fallen apart and left millions adrift from the cultural and ethical moorings that their ancestors took for granted. 33 years later, it is ironic to look back on the period that the writer depicts with such grim pathos when it is celebrated as a time of idealism and freedom by the survivors of the sixties. Many pieces in the first and third sections of the book ("Lifestyles in the Golden Land" and "Seven Places of the Mind") seem rather dated; the piece which made the most impression on this reviewer was the least ambitious of the group; to me, the portrait of Comrade Laski of the CPUSA-ML is a tiny masterpiece of irony. The pieces from the second section ("Personals")were much more enjoyable, especially "On Keeping a Notebook" and "On Self-Respect." Overall, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is more memorable for the author's endearing prose style than for the individual essays.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Christian Engler on August 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is the best book of essays I have ever, by the grace of God, been fortunate enough to own and read. In essay after essay, I found myself saying,"Go on, Joan. You said it, Joan. We are the same, you and I, Joan, etc." That is the type of book Slouching Towards Bethlehem is. Reading it, slowly, meticulously, I felt such a close kinship, a bond, not with the writer but with her words -- so carefully chosen and wonderfully articulated. These essays are not meant, honestly, for teenagers, although, if given a chance, the totality of the book would be most beneficial for their pliable and socially indoctrinated minds.
The purport of this book is something that I can so easily identify with: the disappearance of the past for the establishment of a fragmented, roughly organized new society with newfangled, unaccustomed societal perceptions as well as an aggressive casting off of the traditional value system of those who were born and raised a long time before the emergence of the radical, cataclysmic sixties. These essays explore, through author Joan Didion's own feelings and experiences and the feelings and experiences of those she encountered, the disharmononized emotions of the hippy generation vs the elders of the more reactionary periods, periods where: Free Love, Acid Trips, Groovy, Crystal Snorting Gurus and Muumuu Dressed Followers seemed a complex and social oddity in the hierarchy of those who were deemed, "Not with it, man."
What is so nice about these essays is that they are not condescending; there were and are thousands upon thousands of citizens and non-citizens alike who had and have no clue whatsoever as to what the counter-culture represented (me, honestly, being one in that vast catagory).
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By B. L. Williams on April 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
I am relieved to have finally read Didion's much acclaimed book of essays, which was published in 1968--and so it's old. So what? Didion is old, too, and probably an even better writer because of it. But even back then her skills were blazingly and brilliantly sharp. Aesthetically the work is not beautiful--there's no poet in Didion, although the title of the book is from a fantastically riveting poem by Yeats, which she quotes prior to the preface. Beauty is no matter, however, because Didion's essays are the archetype, the Platonic Form; put simply: the way it should be done. The book is divided into 3 sections. The first section is comprised of essays on 1960s California. It is here that we find Didion's diamond, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem", which is a quasi-insider's view of San Francisco's Haight-Ashberry drug culture circa 1967. Other memorable essays from this group include an elegy-esque piece for John Wayne titled, "John Wayne: A Love Song" and "7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38", a portrait of California wealth painted in the image of Howard Hughs. The second group of essays is a collection of Didion's personal reflections on subjects such as self-respect, morality, and the poignant "On Going Home". Didion ends the book with a series of seven essays on places she has visited: Hawaii, Mexico, Alcatraz, Los Angeles, to name a few. Here her ruminations are vivid and blunt, but also exciting. The reader feels as though she has taken a trip of sorts to the places Didion portrays so clearly and persuasively. Clear and persuasive are Didion's hallmarks. Hers is a style whose fruit is truly a masterful group of essays.
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