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We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante (Excelsior Editions) [Hardcover]

Eve Pell
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this self-indulgent memoir, journalist Pell recollects her privileged East Coast upbringing and her gradual break with the affluence and expectations of her dynastic clan. As a young woman, Pell rode horses, spent time at her grandparents' Tuxedo Park villa ("with two enormous round towers and a long, splendid living room that you stepped down into from a double stairway") and shopped at Bergdorfs with relatives called Cooky, Pookie, Goody and Tinkie (Pell was nicknamed Topsy). Following her debut, Pell went to college "to be interesting to my future husband and to pass the time until he showed up," and it wasn't until she graduated and moved to the West Coast that she escaped the overweening pressure to fill the family-standard "snobbish foxhunting debutante" mold. Her eventual transformation to black sheep, unfortunately, is too little too late. Though her luxurious childhood is marked by genuine emotional pain, alienation and confusion, most readers will have a hard time empathizing with her personal issues or her upper-class guilt, particularly in the present financial climate.
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Review

"In We Used to Own the Bronx, her revealing and riveting memoir, Eve Pell defies the dictates of her social class--to be charming but not to say what she felt--and bares all. She detonates bombshells and unmasks betrayals on almost every page." --San Francisco Chronicle

"... a literary treat. ... Pell gives us a kind of cultural anthropology of the closest thing in America to a landed gentry." --Wall Street Journal Review by Sol Stern

"We all know what poverty can do--to individuals, to families, to societies that look the other way ... But what about wealth? What can the possession of immense fortune, over time, do to us? Eve Pell knows. Eve Pell, in this riveting new memoir, tells. We should listen." --Too Much

"...refreshingly direct ... Pell ... uses her lively memoir of growing up in aristocratic style to ask a series of provocative questions: Is it possible to choke on a silver spoon? What good is a sense of entitlement? Are riches wasted on the rich? Her candid account of bristling at her birthright transcends the stereotype suggested by the subtitle to divulge the psychic pressures of living with inherited privilege in a meritocracy-mad country ... To her lasting credit, We Used to Own the Bronx is a graceful object lesson in how perspective is gained not all at once but by accretion, the reward of years of methodical observation." --truthdig.com

"Eve Pell gives us a fascinating glimpse into a secret world of unfathomable wealth and privilege. Hers is an unexpected and ultimately hopeful journey of rebellion and reconciliation." --Jane Fonda --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

We Used to Own the Bronx tells the story of a woman born into the proprieties of an East Coast dynasty who nevertheless leaves her world of privilege for a career as an investigative reporter. Recounting her upbringing, Eve Pell offers an inside look at the bizarre values and customs of the American aristocracy, from debutante balls and the belowstairs hierarchy of the servant class to the fanatical pursuit of blood sports and private men's clubs whose members were cared for like sultans. In the patriarchal world of the upper crust, girls were expected to flatter and defer to boys and men: her scholar-athlete sister was offered a racehorse if she would refuse to attend college. A parade of eccentrics populates the book, from the cockfighting stepfather who ran away from boarding school with a false beard and a stolen motorcycle to the Brahmin great-uncle who secretly organized the servants in Tuxedo Park to vote for Teddy Roosevelt.

But as she moved beyond the narrow world she was expected to inhabit, Pell encountered people and ideas that brought her into conflict with her past. Equally unconventional are the muckrakers and revolutionaries she met in the 1960s and 1970s, and her subsequent adventures and misadventures while working with radical activists to reform the California prison system. As Pell traces her absorbing journey from debutante to working mother, from the upper crust of the East Coast to the radical activists of the West, from a life of wealth and privilege to one of trying to make ends meet, she provides exceptional insight into the prickly and complex issues of social class in America.

"Eve Pell gives us a fascinating glimpse into a secret world of unfathomable wealth and privilege. Hers is an unexpected and ultimately hopeful journey of rebellion and reconciliation." - Jane Fonda

"An intriguing look at a world of arcane, white-gloved ritual and great privilege by a writer rebellious enough to leave it behind, wise enough to know that doing so is no quick and simple matter, and aware enough to know that the alternative worlds she discovers have their own moral complexities as well." - Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost and Bury the Chains

About the Author

A journalist, grandmother, and champion age-group runner, Eve Pell has received awards for her outstanding print reporting and television documentaries. Her books include Maximum Security: Letters from Prison, as well as the award-winning The Big Chill: How the Reagan Administration, Corporate America, and Religious Conservatives are Subverting Free Speech and the Public's Right to Know. She lives in San Francisco.
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