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The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  217 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
A magnificent history of Hollywood from the invention of film to the present day, by the everywhere acclaimed David Thomson, who has established himself as the “greatest living film critic and historian” (The Atlantic Monthly), “irreplaceable” (The New York Times), and simply “the best writer about the movies” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Now we have his master work, The W
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published November 30th 2004 by Knopf (first published 2004)
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Sep 30, 2014 Tfitoby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, film
David Thomson tells the history of American cinema with enthusiasm and wit, loaded with sass and bile he still manages to convey a great love for the medium despite being painfully aware that it has always been a place for hucksters and conmen to screw over everyone it can in the never ending hunt for a quick buck.

In Thomson's Hollywood nothing is straightforward, everybody has an ulterior motive and nobody gets away clean. His love of noir and especially Chinatown is apparent in this approach.
May 16, 2009 Buck rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
David Thomson is in love with movies, which is not surprising in itself, given his profession. Luckily (for us, not so much for him) his is the bitter, exasperated kind of love that an intelligent man might conceive, against his will, for a brainless little skank. It’s this ambivalent quality that gives his criticism its torque, propelling it beyond the naïve boosterism of the standard Entertainment Weekly puffery.

But I'm not here to talk about Thomson’s many virtues because, for me, the flaws i
Feb 14, 2011 Alan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who's ever thought about the movie business
Recommended to Alan by: Other work
The Whole Equation was a doomed enterprise from the very start, of course, at least in a way... one man, one volume, could not hope to encompass the whole of Hollywood's history from its inception in the 19th Century to the 21st. Yet David Thomson's discursive musings are a great success in another way, for they do provide an evocative and, I daresay, valid sense of the sweep of that history, or at least of its early years.

Thomson is a guy who is utterly enthralled by the cinema. He was born in
Kevin Cecil
Dec 02, 2012 Kevin Cecil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film, history, male-author
It is frustrating how well David Thompson writes about film considering how little he seems to respect it. Film through Thompson's lens seems a bit dirty, in both the kid in the mud, and Larry Flint way. He looks down on film, constantly lauding literature and other arts as superior. Which is fine, hell I share the same condescending view towards video games - only I wouldn't bother to write a page on them, much less a book. Thompson gets the title from Fitzgerald's THE LAST TYCOON, his final, u ...more
Jan 22, 2009 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was very different from what I initially thought it would be. Although it claims to be "A History of Hollywood", it really is more a personal musing about film that uses Hollywood as a framework. It took some getting used to, as Thomson's style in this book is very colloquial, with lots of parenthetical flights. But once I got onto his wavelength, I found it be quite a good book. He brings up philosophical questions about film (as opposed to say, books) that I hadn't ever thought about ...more
Michael Rivera
Jul 07, 2007 Michael Rivera rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: still trying to figure that out
I started reading this book in September 2005, and made it to the 3rd chapter - while on a cruise. Theoretically, I am still currently reading. However, I really don't know that I will have the gumption to finish the book. It was rather dry and not real interesing to me - but perhaps that is just me. It seems to me to be difficult to write the history of Hollywood in one book. The subject should be more specialized. There's too much to write about Hollywood to cover it thoroughly.
Terry Clague
Feb 06, 2014 Terry Clague rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In which David Thomson talks at meandering length about the "movies". The style is what Rob Langham would call "talking in statements" and others might label "highly irritating", "self-indulgent" and/or "pretentious". There are some interesting sections to be sure, but it feels cobbled together. The less said about his sexual obsession with Nicole Kidman, the better.
Mar 15, 2007 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I love David Thomson; I bought it because of this line: 'Charlie Chaplin fucked like a very wealthy man with an utterly private life.'
T Fool
May 23, 2009 T Fool rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even reviews by Pauline Kael – those classics – don’t have much impact anymore. It’s hard to say how many books have handled Hollywood seriously. Thomson’s has. You’d expect some of what’s in here: chronology, celebrity, the grit beneath the glitz. But in no small awe you’ll be by his deriving of the ‘equation’ and how he shows it to apply.

Yes. Culture, Hollywood-delivered, begins as popular gadget-entertainment, mass cheap delight. That tradition, one of technical innovation and wonder, continu
Tim Pieraccini
Feb 15, 2017 Tim Pieraccini rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely not what I expected, not having read Thomson before, but a fascinating and rewarding read.
Feb 07, 2011 FrankH rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite an interesting read, with an intuitive, ambitious premise -- Hollywood helped create pop culture, but in turn was itself influenced by the tides of 20th century American history and the unique personalities of the early moguls like Mayer and Thalberg, often in ways that were unpredictable. For a book that has such a rambling anecdotal feel to it, Thomson does successfully convey pieces of American cinema 'Equation'. It's an impressionistic style -- tell the story of Myron Selznick to depic ...more
Feb 10, 2014 Jonathan rated it really liked it
A great personal take on the movies. Don't let the subtitle "A History of Hollywood" fool you, this is no history book. Rather it, rightly, melds history, apocrypha and criticism to piece together the story of film. I love Thomson's voice here. It feels a bit incomplete and ultimately harried, though. If I had to guess I'd bet Thomson fills in the blanks in his latest, Moments That Made the Movies. Still, Thomson's deconstruction of the Edward Hopper painting, New York Movie, shows a true origin ...more
Read the STOP SMILING interview with author David Thomson

The 21st Interview: David Thomson
by José Teodoro

David Thomson is a historian, critic and the author of several books on movies of tremendous influence, among them The Biographical Dictionary of Film, The Whole Equation and, most recently, Have You Seen…?: A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films and Try To Tell the Story: A Memoir. He’s contributed to publications such as Film Comment, Salon and the Guardian. His prose remains highly distinct
Tim Read
Ok, so I gave this 3 stars. This seems fair to a book that is frustrating and engrossing in equal parts. There is a quote line on the back of my copy which says something along the lines of you don't get a unicorn to pull a cart, which I think is a much more eloquent way of expressing what I felt about it.
It's a curates egg of a book, full of fascinating stories about old Hollywood, a mad dash from the 50's through too the 90's and the occasionally rather tangential aside and also the obligator
Bookmarks Magazine

Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film **** Jan/Feb 2003) claims that the strange bedfellows art and money created American film, but that full understanding of this union "is too hard" to grasp. Critics agree: Thomson may have bitten off more than he can chew. His range is amazing, and so are his digressions. Known for his incisive, biting insight into film, Thomson doesn't disappoint here. His beautiful prose, impressive knowledge, and passion for film float the book. But distracting

Paul Maullin
Oct 13, 2015 Paul Maullin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read one other Thomson book about movies and no matter what you think you know he brings a range of insights and wacky perspectives. He is THE philosopher of movies. I don't entirely agree with his dislike of modern movies, but I agree with his sadness at the retreat from complexity and the human level in modern film. He wrote the book in 2003 and his worry about what technology was doing to the experience of watching has only grown more obvious. I sometimes show movies in my English clas ...more
Amy Westgarth
Jan 03, 2014 Amy Westgarth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Urgh I hated this and skimmed most of it. I was expecting a general overview, but it turns out the clue is in the title: "a" history, not "the" history of Hollywood. It wasn't explained who this David guy is or why his opinions matter, but I could not get along with him at all.

I didn't really learn anything new or interesting either. The author fixated on just a few films/actors/examples (he's obsessed with Nicole Kidman for some reason, she comes up a lot) and it all came across very one-sided
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Not really a straight forward history of Hollywood, but a critic's examination of what Hollywood means to the history of movies. As such, it is both disappointing and surprisingly good as you enjoy Thomson's informed insights but disagree with his conclusions and wish he might fit them into a historical time line.

Probably the strongest praise I can give this book, and if not a classic it is very easily deserving of its "worth my time" rating, is that it made me take notes on his sources to read
Dec 28, 2007 Art rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: filmcriticism
Generally I eat this stuff up: a well-written, insightful look at the movies that engagingly theorizes while dishing up dirt here and there. But perhaps Thomson's amazing Biographical Dictionary of Film just raised my expectations too much....

The book moves from the early silent days to the present, using Los Angeles as a sort of through-line (and Chinatown as an exemplar) but things feel half-baked at times and the framework isn't entirely nailed down.

But an enjoyable and lightning fast read

excellent, absorbing, ideosynchratic, epigrammatic, anecdotal, synechdotal, aphoristic history of hollywood from a really interesting, learned, tough-minded, deeply literate, wise and witty film historian and world-class film buff
Nov 18, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really neat look at Hollywood through a lot of different lenses - unlike a typical history, the narrative jumps around and examines the development of Hollywood and its principal figures from several different angles. Thoughtful and occasionally surprising writing.
Apr 20, 2007 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cineastes
It's more anecdotal than I'd expected, so it's a nice read. Anyone looking to read a history of Hollywood should start here. The author inserts a little too much of himself into the text, but his research and knowledge are exhaustive.
Jan 21, 2009 Jeremiah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to change my review. It started off interesting but ended up (actually middled up because I gave up in the middle) self-indulgent, diary-like meandering prose. It's more about David Thomson's thought process than Hollywood.
Mark Peters
May 16, 2012 Mark Peters rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A lifetime of film contemplation condensed into a book. Assured and masterful.
Dec 20, 2010 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You don't have to agree with everything David Thomson says to enjoy his passionate writing. And a kick up the arse to watch a lot of films that I've been meaning to for years.
Brian rated it it was ok
May 16, 2014
Lianne rated it liked it
Sep 16, 2012
Will rated it liked it
May 30, 2014
rr rated it liked it
Aug 07, 2009
Jude Brigley
Jude Brigley rated it really liked it
Feb 08, 2011
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