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Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles Hardcover – November 1, 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Gross seems to be picking up where the late, great Dominick Dunne left off in his fascination with the ways that high life and low life come together. Gross gives us the lowdown on an incredible cast of characters...[He] is such a good storyteller." --JOE MEYER, CONNECTICUT POST

"Stripping bare the glamorous West Coast,from Beverly Hills to Bel-Air, Holmby Hills, Beverly Park, etc... Michael's never been a lap dog of his subjects. And he never holds back the dish "--GEORGE CHRISTY, BEVERLY HILLS COURIER

Unreal Estate . . . might be best described as what would happen if Us Weekly and Architectural Digest had a love child that was much smarter than either. The book provides a panorama of what was going on inside some of the most frivolous, gated houses on a hill that have ever existed.” -Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

Unreal Estate has it all: movie stars, murders, strippers, pimps, playboys and Mafiosi alongside the founding members of Los Angeles society . . . The book is a great read." -New York Social Diary

"Murderers, lawyers, actors, pornographers, tycoons, and addicts . . . Fantasy and ambition, cheating and careless waste . . . Gross's research is meticulous. Hard to read. Harder to put down." -Los Angeles Magazine

“A juicy, breezily told social history of La La Land . . .” -Kirkus 

“A gripping picture of what made Los Angeles what it is today...In Unreal Estate, [Michael Gross] takes on the Western Frontier like a modern day cowboy — seeking, searching and taking no prisoners.” -Lucy Blodgett, The Huffington Post

"Juicy cocktail-party anecdotes . . . fill Unreal Estate." -Details

"Scandal filled" -Degen Pener, The Hollywood Reporter

"Juicy" -Curbed

"Gross writes with an aficionado’s zeal . . ." -Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Michael Gross is the best-selling author of 740 Park: The Story of the World's Richest Apartment Building, Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Lust, Lies, Greed and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women and other books. A Contributing Editor of Travel + Leisure he has also written for major publications around the world, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, New York, Esquire and GQ. He lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076793265X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767932653
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #460,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was a primer on the history of Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Holmby Hills, and the newest exclusive domain of Beverly Park. A verititable who's who of the founders, planners and famous residents - both past and present - of L.A.'s plushest domains. My only dissapointment was that the book did not include more detailled maps of the communities and more photos of the grand estates, country clubs and business districts where the old money and the nouveau riche frequented and frequent today.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Despite the extensive introductory material on the founding of the Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Holmby Hills sub-divisions, it's obvious that the author of "Unreal Estate" is no Kevin Starr, who tells complex history in a comprehensible way. I ended up skipping scores of pages of disjointed narrative piled up with needless detail and felt I hadn't missed a thing. Once (or if) you get past the introductory chapters, which readers will soon realize are nothing but pretentious window dressing, you'll find that the history of the houses Michael Gross chose to write about, and the families who built and lived in them, reads like a mixture of "National Enquirer" and "Hollywood Babylon" with a dash of "Architectural Digest" thrown in. Gross occasionally strays from the path of rehashing gossip and innuendo -- there is some interesting material included such as the history of the Boldt-Weber house -- but the focus is mostly on the stories about the owners of the homes, virtually all of which are denigrating.

Furthermore, by adopting a chronological approach rather than one by subject, the author didn't make "Unreal Properties" easy to follow. The same properties are repeatedly revisited over the course of hundreds of pages by which time the reader has lost track of, not to mention interest in, whose house it was in the first (or second, or third) place. This is exacerbated by the virtual absence of photos, which is a huge flaw; there are only three, one of which, strangely enough, is of Jayne Mansfield with Mickey Hargitay. How can a book on houses have almost no pictures? I felt like I was dropped off in the middle of a forest without a compass. Even one photo of each property discussed would have been helpful.

One star.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm about halfway through the book, and I'm not sure that I'll finish it. I did read and enjoy his earlier book, 740 Park, but I'm starting to flag on this one. Probably my fault, as he writes well. I did enjoy the very first part of the book, where he gives an overview of the history of the Los Angeles area. As the book progresses, you get short chapters on specific properties and the famous/well-known/notorious families and individuals that lived in them, or built them, or both. Nothing wrong with that, my problem is that for me, they all start to sound the same and blend together. Naturally, each house has it's own story, but overall, there seems to be a depressing overall sameness to the stories, and it gets to be a bit much after awhile. I think that part (or most) of the problem for me is that I have a sincere lack of curiosity about the rich and famous, so reading about the excesses of the people profiled doesn't really interest me that much. It's hard for me to put into words, but somehow I expected the book to be more about actual properties and real estate transactions in the greater Los Angeles area, not just about a handful of mansions and the strange people who lived in them. I guess the best way to express it would be to say that I expected the book to cover a wider range and have a bigger scope. The subtitle reads "Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles". A more accurate subtitle would have been: "A Few Mansions and Their Sad Owners".
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By CD in DC on January 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
like his pieces for NY Magazine in the 90's on supermodels, Gross casts himself as a big game hunter on a safari for beautiful prey, this time square footage beyond compare in Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills adjacent. As with those articles, with subjects so photogenic, it's hard to believe the only photo of note is of the author himself in the inside back of the book jacket. Even the maps which adorn the inside covers don't mark the homes he talks about. He mixes notorious names like Bernie Cornfeld and Heidi Fleiss with familiar ones like Kenny Rogers and George Hamilton. Not sure how he talks about the Pink Palace home of Jayne Mansfield so much without talking about once and maybe current owner Engelbert Humperdinck but that's the problem, he looks for the names he's listed at the front of the book, everyone else is an afterthought, in fact, even some people listed in the book aren't in the index.
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Format: Hardcover
Having been born in Los Angeles in 1928 and lived there until 1963 I've passed the houses wriiten about in this book hundreds of times. I went to school with the children of some of the people Michael Gross writes about. But until I read Unreal Estate the massive houses never really meant much to me. The were large structures, quite beautiful in some cases, houses where I went to parties or benefits in the gardens. But Michael Gross has made the mansions truly live for me. The backgrounds of successive owners his research produced is absolutely riveting in some cases. Behind those beautiful facades those things really went on! I love the book and for anybody who has curiosity about what has gone on for generations behind those magnificent gates and beautiful perfectly cut hedges and lovely exteriors, this book is a must. I for one read right through the night. It is people who make these mansions live and Michael Gross has brought these people to the reader in goodness and uglines, in beauty and in evil, their lives and loves, their deeds and misdeeds. A book I highly reommend.
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