Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The White Album” as Want to Read:
The White Album
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The White Album

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  5,881 ratings  ·  374 reviews
First published in 1979, "The White Album "is a journalistic mosaic" "of American life in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It includes, among other bizarre artifacts and personalities, reportage on the dark journeys and impulses of the Manson family, a visit to a Black Panther Party press conference, the story of John Paul Getty's museum, a meditation on the romanc ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 1st 1990 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1979)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The White Album, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The White Album

The Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Day of the Locust by Nathanael WestLess Than Zero by Bret Easton EllisWhite Oleander by Janet FitchTo Live and Drink in L.A. by Ben Peller
Los Angeles
41st out of 186 books — 132 voters
Of Mice and Men by John SteinbeckEast of Eden by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckThe Joy Luck Club by Amy TanThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Novels Set in California
80th out of 364 books — 204 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Greg
In one essay Joan Didion mentions Grace Cathedral Park in San Francisco. I don't know anything about the cathedral or the park except that it's the name and setting for one of my all-time favorite songs. My love for Mark Kozelek and the Red House Painters is marred a bit by what an asshole he was when I saw Red House Painters live. How does someone write such great songs and act like such a monumental douche (which apparently is his normal live persona, he yells at the audience, plays rambling t ...more
Nancy
The White Album was required reading for my American Experience class. I didn't love the book at first, but after a couple of essays, Didion's quiet style started to grow on me. This collection is a revealing narrative of events that occurred in the 1960's and 1970's. It examines the lives of famous and infamous people and places (Charles Manson, Ramón Novarro, the Hoover Dam, Huey Newton, the California freeway, Bogotá, Doris Lessing, and others). Didion gives candid and thoughtful snapshots of ...more
Eric
If I had started with The White Album instead of Slouching Toward Bethlehem I might have been spared two years of blithely embarrassing myself with statements like: “Joan Didion? She’s ok.” Actually she’s amazing. The rhythms of her self-dramatization in Slouching were too arch for my taste, or perhaps for my mood. The White Album must be different, or I must have changed, because I love the persona that emerges from its rhythms. She’s brooding, migrainous, in the first essay paranoid, yet essen ...more
John Doe
Didion doesn't buy into all of that collectivist angst crap, but she is not without her own strange eccentricities. For example, when people give her Scientology books she puts them in a drawer instead of throwing them away because she wants to keep them but she doesn't want anyone to see them on her bookshelf and get the wrong idea, etc. Her view of the 1960s is a skeptical one. She is skeptical of the Black Panther party and of the Women's Movement. She is skeptical of "The Revolution" and of ...more
Geoff
I didn’t love these essays until about the midpoint, “The Women’s Movement”, a devastatingly good piece about the watering-down of feminism in mid-century America, about the heartbreaking shift of a vitally important revolutionary movement as it lost touch with its ideological base and became ever more a vehicle appropriated by a leisure class, its goals moving away from seeking the possibility for an individual to create their own unique destiny unfettered by traditional obstacles and bias, and ...more
David
I've always thought that I was somehow naïve to some sort of greater truth about reality, or at least the United States, or at least California, because I had never read anything by Joan Didion. Friends and acquaintances and strangers spoke of her with a sort of ineloquent awe as if their own descriptions could never match her lucid prose or mental acuity.

Now that I have actually read her own words I want to know, what is all the fuss about? I find Barbara Grizzutti Harrison's 1980 essay much mo
...more
christa
Dear Shevaun,

You left a self-addressed envelope, the size of a note card, in the Duluth Public Library’s copy of “The White Album,” a collection of essays by Joan Didion. Your name as both the sender and receiver. Both address labels indicate an association with the University of Florida. One is decorated with a UF, the other a cartoonish profile of a cartoon gator, its snout hanging out of a decorative oval. Neither label is very artistic minded, not the finest work of a graphic designer. I do
...more
John Spillane
I liked the last couple pages of Didion's Play It As It Lays enough to bounce it from 2 to 4 stars so I think she has skill and a keen sense of what works and what doesn't. 70% of this is hardcore also rans from what I can only assume must be a great Slouching Towards Bethlehem; I would be shocked if she felt otherwise. I was begrudgingly going to bump this from 2.5 to 3.0 until I saw the average rating and all the rave reviews.

There are pieces that really shine; the orchid bit and the entire Wo
...more
Feliks
This undersung work almost earns my vote for the best writing by any 20th century American woman author, period (only losing #1 honors to Shirley Jackson). If we focus only on 20th c. American nonfiction; then it is certainly my #1 favorite title--beating out not just all other female authors but also all males as well. Did you hear what I just said? I have put my admiration in as strongly worded terms as I possibly can.

Here's the thing about Didion and why she's important: you can spend 10, 15,
...more
Baiocco
Nov 29, 2007 Baiocco rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: non-believers, writers, feelers
Shelves: essays
It must say something that even though I'm shit-stuffed full after two and a half rounds of Thanksgiving plates of turkey and sides I feel compelled to review a book of essays I last read 6 years ago? That something may be: I don't have a girlfriend right now. Yes, the judges are willing to accept that as a correct answer. But they will also accept 'The White Album is a great book and Joan Didion is a great writer. And that answer is way easier for my ego to swallow so we're going to go with it. ...more
David Fulmer
This is a collection of brilliant, eloquent, and endlessly fascinating essays by an author rightly celebrated as one of the finest essayist and stylist of her time. Joan Didion’s discerning and probing attention is here focused on everything from the Hoover Dam to orchids to traffic in Southern California and the results are uniformly insightful. Among the best pieces are ones about Los Angeles which she dissects in time and space, offering a perspective on the Hollywood film industry which bypa ...more
David B
Joan Didion's essays are sharply observed and very personal. She informs us of her fragile mental state in the very first essay, in which she describes a pervasive sense of detachment that she felt from the world. She then goes on to deliver a collection of well-written profiles on personalities, places, and the concerns of the time (late 60s-early 70s). Didion inserts herself and her personal issues into these pieces on ocassion, which no doubt contributes to the accusation by some that she is ...more
katie
Not every essay holds up 30+ years later, certainly the moving waves of feminism and changes in the way we think about privilege make some ideas and "insights" especially cringe-worthy and dated. But that's not unexpected for essays from the past. What does hold up incredibly well is the writing-Didion writes descriptions that awe with their intuitive-seeming accuracy and manages to reflect the sort of dreamy sense of unreality that seems to have been the hallmark of the part of culture she was ...more
Stephen Seager
On of the best non-fiction books ever. If you want to see what perfect writing looks like, look no further. Why she didn't win the Nobel Prize for literature is beyond me. Alice Munro? Come on. If you want to be a writer, this is the book to emulate. She's the best. Period.
Ryan Chapman
Feb 13, 2008 Ryan Chapman rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ryan by: Megan
Shelves: nonfiction, essays
This book is amazing. It's been so long since a writer so perfectly mirrored my own sense of ontology, and what it would sound like if I was a genius essayist and distiller of my time. I will now proceed to read several more books by Didion.
Myles
(4.3/5.0) Hawaii + Shopping Malls + Los Angeles + Nonchalant Depictions of Violence and Excess; What this woman was born to write about.
Hank Stuever
If I ever had to pick, this is my all-time favorite book, not only by Joan Didion, but by anybody. It was assigned reading in Fr. Schroth's Travel Writing course in the spring of 1990 -- my final semester. The course was less concerned with the "service journalism" aspect of travel writing (hotel details, itineraries, restaurants, etc.) and more of a travel literature course, involving a ton of reading (Thoreau's "Walden"; Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Didion) and quite a bit of writing/reporting ...more
David
Sharp essay collection. Didion’s got a keen eye and ear. She cuts through lazy assumptions about various groups and flows of the 60s/70s American scene. That period makes it, too, a fascinating time capsule.

Despite her usually sure grip, as with any collection, there are a few misses along the way. She’s a little defensive of some of her rich Hollywood friends, a little too “you just wouldn’t understand” here and there. There’s also a strange reactionary strain at times, as when she carps about
...more
Robertisenberg
Whenever I think of "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," I flash to its most provocative images: The four-year-old tripping on LSD, dinner with John Wayne, the opening true-crime story about a murder-of-passion. Joan Didion always appears revolted by the state of things, as if the world is a bitter pill that she refuses to swallow, instead tonguing the capsule as it acidly dissolves.

"The White Album" isn't just a sequel collection, nor is it a mere extention of 60's reportage into the 70's. Didion real
...more
Michael
A fine example of juxtaposing public cultural events with personal experiences, a kind of journalism Didion practically invented (and Hunter Thompson took over the top). By putting her reflections on political and social events in the context of her interests and activities at the time, the social impacts of the events are made more particular in an intimate way. But is their significance made more meaningful or universal with such a method? I couldn�t help wondering that with each essay Didion ...more
Kim Phipps
It amazes and almost embarrasses me that I have never read anything by Joan Didion before. Not surprisingly, many of my wonderfully literate friends are already fans. These essays are so perfectly and precisely written. Her voice is very much a woman's voice, and is unapologetically personal, yet there is a refreshing austerity in her prose. (I HATE to sound sexist, but I wish more young women writers would read and learn from her in this era of the blah blah blog-like books) She is droll, but n ...more
Juli
This was my first Joan Didion book, and now I'm a little obsessed. I love how precise and crafted her sentences are, how she explores and writes about unique topics (orchid farming, Hoover Dam), and how invested she seems to be in everything she describes. More than just giving a fascinating portrait of California and the U.S. in the 1970's, Didion seems really committed to understanding and describing what it means to be a person in and of that time. The best books, I think, change my way of th ...more
Cassandra Gillig
Every time Joan Didion comes up, I want to, like, run home and roll around on the floor in mmpbs of SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM--cooing and giggling wildly. I was reading an anthology for class, and remembered why I'd hidden THE WHITE ALBUM behind so many others on my bookshelf: its constant peering into my soul from the shelf was DISTRACTING.

It's so hard to not get territorial + overly sensational about the females whose presence in literature is not simply booming and tremendous but so so so s
...more
Neil
Joan Didion must be thrilled to have received my first five star review.

You don't need to get more than a couple of pages into it to appreciate Didion's sentence construction, which has an irregular rhythm to it that matches exactly the sentiment she tries to convey. She's is masterful in using precise language and description to convey facts and events that belie deep seated uncertainty. And there's a further juxtaposition in the way she somehow manages to give frank opinions while maintaining
...more
Andre
After her famous Slouching Toward Bethlehem, this is her next book in the same vein. It launched me onto my two year long Didion obsession durring which time I read everything she'd ever written. I even watched that horrible Redford movie she co-scripted the screenplay for. Didon is a consumate prose stylist. Like Poe or Williams her writing is almost a code, a denuded, sheer script that eludes the reader with its dead-pan incisiveness. But in the end I realized that her early works are so power ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
I like this more than the better-known Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and it's quite possibly my favorite Didion period. Slouching revealed her terrific intelligence and acerbic tone, but the White Album is the next step after that. Here, she also reveals bits of her personality, and not just the skeptic that bleeds through everything she does: you get a sense of her odd obsessions that no one else has, told with self-deprecating wit; her dry sense of humor; and a little vulnerability, as in her f ...more
Jennifer
I've heard The White Album’s famous first line, "We tell ourselves stories in order live," multiple times before I read the book. Now that I've read it, I realize that this quote is, for the most part, misinterpreted. Throughout the essays, Didion explores where stories fail to tell us the truth. Whether it is looking at reality of how the public persona of Nancy Reagan was created, the largely false narrative of Hollywood’s failed studio system in the 1970's, or where the water that we so take ...more
Betty
Following from my review of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I feel like I enjoy Didion most when she's not writing about herself. Just a personality thing I guess. Her fixations, though, are engrossing. Lifeguards, the Hoover Dam, shopping centers, so much California history, and particularly the last piece about the orchid grower in Malibu- all of this was great. I also appreciate her views on second wave feminism- I often disagree, but her skepticism and cynicism are a welcome counterpoint to the ...more
John
I admit that after reading Didion's latest books about her husband and daughter's deaths, I was pre-disposed against hearing of her junket-jammed lifestyle, and celebrity name dropping; there was a fair amount of that in these essays from 40 years ago, leaving me with a less-than-fuzzy feeling for the author as a person. However ... that was okay as this proved a damned fine collection in spite of all that. The entries are largely snapshots in time, but with universal themes, so that the "dated" ...more
Julia Bade
There are so many elements of craft that I could dive into for The White Album. I’d like to first focus on her imagery. It was like she could take a single line and just give it more than one could hope for. It was sensory overload. Her lines were beautiful.
In The White Album 9, she writes, “At San Francisco State College on that particular morning the wind was blowing the cold rain in squalls across the muddied lawns and against the lighted windows of empty classrooms. It just completely open
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
  • Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
  • The John McPhee Reader (John McPhee Reader, #1)
  • The Next American Essay
  • Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
  • The Best American Essays of the Century
  • The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000
  • The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative
  • Against Interpretation and Other Essays
  • On Looking: Essays
  • Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005
  • The Solace of Open Spaces
  • Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
  • The Boys of My Youth
  • No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays
  • Bluets
  • Metaphor & Memory
  • The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History
238
Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She's best known for her novels and her literary journalism.

Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.
More about Joan Didion...
The Year of Magical Thinking Slouching Towards Bethlehem Play It as It Lays Blue Nights A Book of Common Prayer

Share This Book

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” 285 likes
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live...We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” 163 likes
More quotes…