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Oh the Glory of It All Hardcover – May 19, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"A memoir, at its heart, is written in order to figure out who you are," writes Sean Wilsey, and indeed, Oh the Glory of it All is compelling proof of his exhaustive personal quest. It's no surprise that as a kid in the '80s, Wilsey found similarities between his own life and his beloved Lord of the Rings and Star Wars--his journey was fraught with unnerving characters too.

Wilsey's father was a distant, wealthy man who used a helicopter when a moped would do and whose mandates included squeegeeing the stall after every shower. Much of Wilsey's youth was spent as subservient to, or rebelling against this imposing man. But the maternal figures in Wilsey's childhood were no less affecting. His mother, a San Francisco society butterfly turned globe-trotting peace promoter, seemed to behave only in extremes--either trying to convince young Sean to commit suicide with her, or arranging impromptu meetings with the Pope and Mikhail Gorbachev. And Dede, his demon of a stepmother, would have made the Brothers Grimm shiver.

As always with memoirs one must take expansive sections of recalled dialogue with a grain of salt, but Wilsey's short, unflinching sentences keep his outlandish story moving too quickly for much quibbling. In the end, Wilsey says, "It took the unlikely combination of the three of them--mother, father, stepmother--to make me who I am." It's a fairly basic conclusion after 479 pages of turning every stone, but it's also one that renders his story--more than shocking or glorious--human. --Brangien Davis

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Reviewed by A.J. JacobsHere's something I've realized: if my son shows any hint of writing talent, I'm going to be damn careful whenever he's in the room. We live in a dangerous era. Not too long ago, the average person could go around making mistakes, saying stupid things and being occasionally horrible, and who would know? Those days are over. Now, the Internet is cluttered with tell-all blogs by every schlub who's mastered the hunt and peck method. And bookstores are packed with memoirs by people who haven't even done anything to merit a measly entry in Who's Who (and I include myself in that category). Maybe this will inspire a new morality—the morality of dread. The world will be frightened into acting nice for fear of being humiliated in print. Yeah, probably not.In any case, these notions struck me while reading Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey—a strange, fascinating, complicated and self-involved memoir about the author's boyhood among San Francisco's social elite. The book contains perhaps the most evil parental figure since Joan Crawford. That woman is named Dede, the wicked stepmother of the tale. Dede allegedly stole Wilsey's father from his mom, banned afternoon TV, monitored Wilsey's phone calls, played endless mind games, told Wilsey to change his favorite color from red, and on and on. I'm not sure which Dede will find more disturbing—her foibles being laid bare or the fact that Wilsey admits to masturbating to her photo and smelling her underwear.Dede is joined by Wilsey's equally intriguing biological parents. There's his mother, a drama queen who once dated Frank Sinatra, held salons, hosted a talk show, asked Wilsey to commit suicide with her and became a globe-trotting peace activist. And then there's his father, a dairy-business millionaire, helicopter pilot and lothario. These three characters form the heart of the book. Wilsey also discusses his pot-steeped days at various boarding schools, including a bizarre cultlike institution in Italy that encouraged lots of weeping and hugging. But the parts about the family are the book's strongest. It's a startlingly honest tale. I can't imagine he left out a single humiliating detail, unless he had improper relations with his goldfish. Sometimes Wilsey comes off as a sympathetic figure, someone you'd like in the cubicle next to yours. But almost as often, he's completely malevolent—he made his roommate cry by sabotaging the poor guy's top bunk so that it collapsed onto the floor. And yet, when you begin to think of the book as just the tale of a poor-little-rich-boy, there's one thing that saves it: the writing, which is vivid, detailed, deep and filled with fresh metaphors. So if my son does end up lambasting me in his memoir, I hope he does it with as much style as Wilsey. A.J. Jacobs is an editor at large at Esquire and the author of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (S&S).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (May 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200513
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200519
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #950,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The test of a great book is whether it stays with you, not just from the standpoint of recommending it to your friends, but also whether it changes the way you think. I could not get this book out of my mind for days after I finished it. This is the best book I've read in 2005.

Not only is this a fascinating commentary on how the rich and famous live, it's also heartrendingly honest, tragic, and laugh-out-loud funny. Sean's recollection of his trip to Russia on his mother's first "peace mission" is so funny it should be mandatory reading for creative writers. His honesty about his efforts to be the cool kid made me laugh and cry at the same time, particularly since I was the same age as Sean in the 1980s. I did not think less of Sean as he told of his prep school experiences and less-than-flattering behavior. On the contrary, the courage to write such a memoir generated my respect. Sean came through a terrible childhood where he was treated with less regard than the family dog, yet he still emerged a decent and thriving human being.

As for Dede Wilsey, who supposedly is threatening to sue Sean Wilsey, I believe every word about her in this book. The proof speaks for itself. For starters, she just donated $10 million to the De Young while her stepsons were left penniless after Al Wilsey's death. We reap what we sow. The world would be a better place if every wicked stepmother had a book written about her while she was still alive and kicking to read it. It's such great poetic justice.
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Format: Hardcover
In my teens, I was enthralled by "Falcon Crest" and would have travelled across the continent in a moment to see that Victorian house; Sean Wilsey and his dad would play games where they'd fly over the house in his dad's helicopter. This and other details of Wilsey's younger years make up the captivating first third of this memoir. I haven't flown through non-fiction this quickly since ... well, ever. The story of his parent's marriage and nasty divorce is as dishy as anything you'd ever see on an 80's prime time soap and stepmother Dede Wilsey (who threatened to sue to block publication of the book, but either changed her mind or was unsuccessful- ha, take that Dede!!!) is the nastiest character to come along, real or imagined in years.

Wilsey made me feel for him and all that he went through, partly because I am a sucker for survivors of emotional abuse and also because it was nice to read a memoir from somebody my age (we are a year apart) where I could relate to the era he was referring to.

The book unfortunately begins to lag as Wilsey chronicles being shuttled from school to school and his rebellion against his parents. As interesting as this is, this part book should have been cut down to half its size; after reading about all the people in the schools and every last detail of a skateboarding routine, the type started to blur on the page. And then we get to Amity which Wilsey describes lovingly? ironically?

To me, Amity just seemed another school for troubled rich kids that bore no resemeblance to the reality many people face. Most juvies don't go to opulent settings in Italy to deal with their problems.
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Format: Hardcover
Entertaining, moving and strong. To me, a memoir's strength rests in its conclusion. And this story concludes elegantly and powerfully. Once you're there, the energy of the preceding 450 pages fold back on themselves like a wave breaking on the beach. If you're prospecting for the much publicized scandal and dirt in here, you'll find it. But if that's your sole motivation for reading this, sadly, you'll miss the point. I've read many memoirs and this one was a highlight in the pile. Glorious!
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Format: Hardcover
Before picking up a copy of this book, I had read reviews that focused on the author's family's status and privilege -- as well as the "tell-all memoir" stuff -- and so I came to the book with the expectation that I would have at least some degree of difficulty relating to it. But in fact I found that I identified so strongly with Wilsey's experiences that it took my breath away. The stuff he is able to articulate about living with -- and loving -- narcissistic parents, about learning to experience one's emotional self -- these are things I sometimes suspect are common to my entire generation. (If not, then maybe I've just surrounded myself with friends who have the same challenges as me...) I've given and/or recommended the book to countless friends, and every one comes back to me with the same reaction: they're blown away at how Wilsey's mom (or dad -- but often it's his mom, whose idealism and spiritual focus are detailed as powerfully as her emotional struggles) is just like their mom or dad. And I think the thing I appreciate most about his writing is that it's abundantly clear just how profoundly he loves both his parents, while still struggling with their flaws.

I hope I can convey just a little of how much this book meant to me, and how much it has helped me to read this brilliant (and by the way, REALLY funny, which is a killer combination) articulation of how one young man came to terms with it all. He tells an incredible story incredibly well, and it has sparked some amazing conversations, as well as some inner journeys, for people close to me.

I'm re-reading this and realizing that I've said too little about the book's own merits -- the writing, storytelling, humour -- but I feel like I've already gone on long enough, so will end here. I hope it suffices to say that I consider it one of the most compelling, and gut-wrenchingly honest, books I've read in recent memory.
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