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A Cool Million

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  363 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
In this book, Nathanael West, a great American satirist, nearly laughs the Horatio Alger myth to death. Like many an Alger, Lemuel Pitkin leaves his home on the farm to seek his fortune in the Big City. By the time he is through, he has been robbed, bilked, thrown in jail, has lost his teeth, his eye, a leg, his scalp, and has witnessed a remarkable number of rapes and pol ...more
Paperback, 142 pages
Published June 1961 by Berkley Publishing Corporation (first published 1934)
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The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyOf Mice and Men by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Best Books of the Decade: 1930s
252nd out of 454 books — 767 voters
Mary Poppins by P.L. TraversMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha ChristieI, Claudius by Robert GravesThe Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. SayersTender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Best Books of 1934
12th out of 28 books — 25 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 672)
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Bill  Kerwin
May 21, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it

Nathanael West may be America's bitterest novelist, and A Cool Million, or the Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin (1934),written in the worst years of The Great Depression, is by far his bitterest work. West loathed the cowardly illusions we call “dreams”--the utopian dream, the redemption-through-art dream, the redemption-through-compassion dream, the salvation dream, the romantic love dream—and foremost among the dreams he loathed was “The American Dream": the abiding fiction that America is “the la
Sep 04, 2013 Chris rated it really liked it
This third of West's four novels is a thematic continuation of Miss Lonelyhearts, his previous work. In that book, the failure of Christian religion to help victims of the Depression, and indeed solve the crisis itself, was the primary theme, with the fallacy of the American Dream secondary. In A Cool Million, the themes are reversed. The assumption that every American can achieve wealth and honor is mercilessly savaged while exposing the bigotry and racism of the Protestant elite.

Lemuel Pitkin
Oct 20, 2009 Gabriel rated it really liked it
"Somehow or another I seem to have slipped in between all the 'schools.' My books meet no needs except my own, their circulation is practically private and I'm lucky to be published. And yet, I only have a desire to remedy all that before sitting down to write, once begun I do it my way. I forget the broad sweep, the big canvas, the shot-gun adjectives, the important people, the significant ideas, the lessons to be taught, the epic Thomas Wolfe, the realistic James Farrell-- and go on making wha ...more
Apr 06, 2008 Dfordoom rated it really liked it
No-one has ever viewed the American Dream with more cynicism, or more venom, than Nathanael West. His literary output was incredibly slender – one short novel, The Day of the Locust, and three novellas – but time has done nothing to diminish the power and the bitterness of his vision. West’s satire isn’t subtle, but it’s undeniably effective. Published in 1934, this is a savage and bleak little book.
Sep 03, 2014 Travelin rated it really liked it
There's a good chance I've read or deliberately chosen not to read this short work 10 years ago when it was paired with the book Miss Lonelyhearts. But this time, in this era, in this part of Bulgaria, the lurid cartoon quality of the book, exposing the brutality of dream makers, seemed much deeper and more timely.

People call it a satire, but the characters are far too broad and stooge-like for satire. So it didn't surprise me that West started as a cartoonist. It reads more like an especially v
Sep 02, 2011 knig rated it really liked it
Shelves: disturbia
OK, so its a grotesquely exaggerated in your face satire: thats the whole point. But the real disturbia is to be found not in the laconic and deadpan list of amputated fingers, scalps and other syphilitic like loss of extremeties which litter the story board, rather the uncomfortable anticlimax which goes against the grain of Western folklore: that if you work hard enough, try hard enough, chase your dreams and persevere, you will succeed.
Cymru Roberts
"I'd settle for a cool million." - the homie Raru

How does one rate this book? You'd have to be a pretty sadomasochistic motherfucker to take any "joy" in this... and yeah it's well-written and I think somewhere deep down Nathan Weinstein was really appalled at the world around him and this was his only way of venting. It was the Great Depression after all. The satire holds up well. Shagpoke's commentary sounds eerily close to any post-2008 Obama speech, which is weird, cuz... who are we making f
Jun 20, 2015 Col rated it liked it
Shelves: w, 2015

In this book, Nathanael West, a great American satirist, nearly laughs the Horatio Alger myth to death. Like many an Alger, Lemuel Pitkin leaves his home on the farm to seek his fortune in the Big City. By the time he is through, he has been robbed, bilked, thrown in jail, has lost his teeth, his eye, a leg, his scalp, and has witnessed a remarkable number of rapes and political riots. Others in the cast: an ex-president of the United States (just released from jail); Lem's child
Dec 21, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: i-own
West's third book comes between "Miss Lonelyhearts" and "The Day of the Locust" in his bibliography. It immediately follows "Lonelyhearts" and is the last West would be heard of for five years, having gone off to Hollywood to write for the pictures. "A Cool Million" exists in a middle area between his semi-realistic books (previously mentioned) and his purely surrealistic debut, "The Dream Life of Balso Snell." Snell, as I wrote before, jumps from tree limb to tree limb without looking back, the ...more
Aug 31, 2013 Josh rated it liked it
Shelves: novels, classics
A Cool Million tells the story-- in mock heroic style-- of a young man who goes out into the world, armed only with his industriousness and optimism, to claim his piece of the American Dream. Within the first few pages, he and his love interest are, variously, beaten, raped, imprisoned, sold into slavery, mugged, swindled, and maimed. To call it a savage satire is an understatement, then, and its humor is so pitch black that reading it is sometimes painful. It makes its point boldly and persuasi ...more
Becky Ferreira
Jun 15, 2013 Becky Ferreira rated it it was amazing
Such an underrated West novel. It's a pretty clear rip off of Voltaire's Candide, but you know what? I am okay with reading a 20th Century version of that masterpiece, since the lessons are as dramatic set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. It's also interesting how the American Dream lines up so well with Leibniz's ideas about optimism, and that gives West's work an even sharper edge. As always, West is so darkly hilarious in this book that I was constantly laughing, then feeling rea ...more
Feb 26, 2014 Daniel rated it it was amazing
My Bucket List:

Drink a full-calorie soda
Model a spring line
Use phrase 'like a sniper at an idiot cull' more often
Realize that practical concerns can sometime intrude
Write an Oscar acceptance speech
Generate a color other than under house arrest via my mood ring
Share fact 'William Shakespeare died on his birthday' to strangers
Lawren Hyder
May 14, 2014 Lawren Hyder rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
"Like many another 'poet,' he balmed his literary failure on the American public instead of his own lack of talent, and his desire for revolution was really a desire for revenge. Furthermore, having lost faith in himself, he thought it was his duty to undermine the nation's faith in itself."
Brian Godsey
This book is surprisingly good. It is amazingly absurd and poignant, trending from amusing to downright cynical.

The craziest thing, though, is that this book---first published in 1954 and taking place in the mid-1930s---carries the narrative of "class warfare", American individualist optimism, corruption, Wall Street, etc straight out of today's (2015) media. It always amazes me when the major corruptions and perversions of sociopolitical systems of today are represented in nearly the exact same
Jun 07, 2014 Colleen rated it liked it
Published in the early 1930s. Heavy handed satire about a young man following the advice of his successful elders to become wealthy. He just needs to pay off his mother's home before the lender forecloses, but has no way of coming up with any money. This is when some people actually believed that you could pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get rich by hard work and sobriety. The 1930s in the US were when the 10% owned about the same percentage of the Nation's wealth as they do today, 85%. ...more
Robert Beveridge
Nathanael West, A Cool Million (Berkeley, 1934)

Despite having published less than six hundred pages of material in his short and rather unhappy life, Nathanael West is revered in critical circles for two groundbreaking American novels, Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust. West published three other novels during his lifetime, and while Lonelyhearts and Locust are constantly in print, the others-- The Dream Life of Balso Snell, A Cool Million, and Good Hunting-- are considerably harder to
Raül De Tena
Jan 04, 2013 Raül De Tena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Nathanael West es mayormente conocido por dos libros. Lo que es muy significativo, teniendo en cuenta que tan sólo tuvo tiempo a escribir cuatro novelas antes de morir junto a su esposa en un accidente de tráfico justo un día después de que su gran amigo F. Scott Fitzgerald falleciera de un ataque al corazón. El primero de esos manuscritos es, sin lugar a dudas, “Miss Lonelyheart” (1933), donde West conseguía retratar cómo un periodista que coge un trabajo alimenticio respondiendo la columna sen ...more
Feb 17, 2015 Sam rated it it was ok
Far from his best work, West relies on a fairly simple satire on the Alger myth of 'rags-to-riches' which rarely rises above basic parody. Actually becomes a little frustrating to read what with the constant hammering home of the same point in the same way: the 'American dream' is far from an absolute truth. Overall it feels, as many critics have said, a sort of artistic and thematic segue between his two masterpieces (both need-to-reads!) 'Miss Lonelyhearts' and 'the Day of the Locust'.
Harri Halonen
Jan 30, 2014 Harri Halonen rated it really liked it
Great novella from underrated writer. "A Cool Million" is story about endless struggle of Lemuel Pitkin. On his journey Lemuel is being robbed, arrested, beaten, molested, scalped and still finds something positive in life. I found myself laughing to Lemuels endless optimism and how our western lifestyle rips him a apart. Also the USA turning into fascism and Lemuel being their symbol is hilarious. Message in this book is timeless. It shows the problems of our nations and how fascist our so call ...more
Dec 05, 2014 Seth rated it really liked it
Unrelenting, West does his best to "debunk" the American Dream at a time when I'm informed it was quite necessary to do so. A true shock-fest, the tragic story of Lemuel and Betty gets a little too tied up in the author's ambition and parody for it to really be savored; instead of being "hilarious" at times, it becomes downright rancid. Many passages left me confused as to who is being criticized and what is being praised, and Lem's inability to develop any sort of street smarts is not nearly as ...more
Dec 20, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing
I'd forgotten how much I loved West! This 100-page novella is his version of an American Candide, with 17-year-old Lemuel Pitkin forced to leave his home in Vermont and travel to New York to seek his fortune. To say that things don't go well for him is putting it mildly. A marvelous mix of riotous comedy and bleak despair.
May 06, 2016 Nariman rated it really liked it
Shelves: translation, realism
واقعا از شیوهٔ روایت و طنز تلخی که داشت خوشم اومد، چنان همه چیز رو به ریشخند گرفته بود که حد نداشت. ولی دقیقا بابت همین تلخی شدیدش نمیتونم بهش پنج ستاره بدم.

ترجمهٔ رضا علیزاده از این کتاب واقعا عالی بود، بدون استفاده از شکستهنویسی به یک ترکیب خیلی عالی از لحن و اصطلاحات دست پیدا کرده بود.
Mar 12, 2015 Adi rated it liked it
It's a bit hard for me to comment on that novel, because it was just so strange. From one side it was written in a really light manner, and it was extremely easy to read. From another side, the story itself is so cruel, and the things that happen to the main character are just beyond horrible. The problem is that I just wasn't emotionally attached to Lemuel due to the lighter tone of the book.
Conlin Conlin
Jan 06, 2014 Conlin Conlin rated it it was amazing
An absurdist parody of Horatio Alger novels in which the hero, Lemuel Pitkin, goes from contentment in rural Vermont to rags in the streets of New York City, to accidentally defrauding jewelers, to the leadership of a fascist political party, and back down again. But like a Depression-era Candide, he never loses sight of his dreams of wealth, despite losing most of his body parts along the way, and constant antagonism from Chinese white slavers, thuggish Irish police officers, and the dual consp ...more
Erik Wyse
Jul 14, 2015 Erik Wyse rated it really liked it
Nathaniel West is a lost gem of American Literature. When I read him I can't help thinking of his influence on the likes of Vonnegut, Barth, Elkin, and others. Satire at it's finest.
May 28, 2014 Catherine rated it liked it
This is an enjoyable satire written in 1934 about America post-Depression and a young man's attempt to make his fortune in New York City.
Jan 15, 2008 Pete rated it it was amazing
not really discussed in the (substantial) body of criticsm on west; i found this to be a hilarious send-up of Algerism in american fiction. its politics are a bit simplistic, but i think its various catastrophes foreshadow the end of The Day of the Locust. eminently worth the time: short, funny, engaging. West's career batting average, in my mind, was .750, with three hits (this, Miss Lonelyhearts, Locust) and one serious miss (The Dream Life of Balso Snell). I'd rate it a must-read if you're in ...more
Didier Vanoverbeke
Just about funny enough, yet surprisingly dull.
Beardo Gomez
Dec 19, 2015 Beardo Gomez rated it it was amazing
This is some bleak, bleak comedy.
Mar 02, 2014 Nicole rated it liked it
Oh, how horrifying!
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Born Nathanael von Wallenstein Weinstein to prosperous Jewish parents; from the first West set about creating his own legend, and anglicising his name was part of that process. At Brown University in New York, he befriended writer and humourist S. J. Perelman (who later married his sister), and started writing and drawing cartoons. As his cousin Nathan Wallenstein also attended Brown, West took to ...more
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