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Oh the Glory of it All

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  3,888 ratings  ·  385 reviews
"In the beginning we were happy. And we were always excessive. So in the beginning we were happy to excess." With these opening lines Sean Wilsey takes us on an exhilarating tour of life in the strangest, wealthiest, and most grandiose of families. Sean's blond-bombshell mother (one of the thinly veiled characters in Armistead Maupin's bestselling Tales of the City) is a 1 ...more
Paperback, 504 pages
Published April 25th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published May 19th 2005)
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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsNight by Elie WieselAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Best Memoir / Biography / Autobiography
440th out of 2,974 books — 3,304 voters
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Best Strange and Twisted Memoirs
71st out of 252 books — 776 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Ted Gideonse
Having worked in publishing, I too often asked myself while reading Oh the Glory of It All, "How the Hell did this get published?" And I did not ask this question because I thought the book was bad. No, it's great. It's weird and funny and engrossing and moving and it takes you to places mostly everyone has never been to. But American publishing doesn't like 450 page memoirs that are weird and long, and this one was published by a major house. I guess the child of famous people gets a leg up in ...more
Candace
Sep 28, 2007 Candace rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of memoirs, like myself
I love memoirs. Let that be known before I say anything else. I enjoy reading about people's lives, if they're written about in a cool way. I wasn't sure about this one at first, as it started out fairly slow, and Sean Wilsey's writing style takes a while to get used to. I read about his childhood as the only child of two self-obsessed San Francisco socialites, until they went through an ugly divorce, and I was less than impressed. It was a bit dull, I suppose, with tons and tons of outside sour ...more
Ginger
I read this book because I wanted to find out what this editor of McSweeney's own writing is like. The answer: derivative and boring. Wilsey says his family was "like the Royal Tenenbaums." Instead of describing one of his boarding schools, he says the school was like a clinic in a Haruki Murakami book...and then quotes half a chapter from Murakami's Norwegian Wood. The last fifty pages are about Wilsey struggling to finish his memoir after getting his advance.
Happily, I only paid $4 for this b
...more
Alec Scott
McSweeney's editor Sean Wilsey has come out with a memoir which paints compelling (to me at least) scenes from bygone San Francisco. It also has an alluring title, Oh, the Glory of it All -- more on this shortly.

His parents are outsized figures and bestride mid-century San Francisco: Father Al Wilsey was the Bay Area's butter baron, a big game hunter, and helicopter pilot; his mother Pat, the beautiful daughter of an itinerant Evangelical preacher, who becomes a model, then writer, columnist, an
...more
will
Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey is an autobiography. In theory it has the potential for a good story. Sean Wilsey and his parents are not people I have heard of before but they have travelled in circles that include the rich and the famous. Sean's parents divorced when he was young and the story of their divorce was a major news event in San Francisco. His father went on to re-marry (an evil step mum), his mother went on to set up a Children for Peace organisation (and has now written her ...more
Sierra
Sep 08, 2007 Sierra rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: social climbers, fans of crunchy memoirs
I found myself alternately annoyed and enthralled by this book, which sports quite a few of those funny/trenchant moments that make great memoirs. It also provides many opportunities for silly-rich-people rubbernecking; in an attempt to highlight the flamboyant hypocrisy of the world's society pages, Sean Wilsey quotes extensively from newspaper reports of his family's ostentatious doings. More often than not, though, I found myself thinking, "Does anyone actually still read these things? Haven' ...more
Drew
Jul 24, 2007 Drew rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: narcaleptics
Shelves: memoirsbios
I finished this, and I'm still wondering how I managed to. I heard a lot of buzz about it before it came out, how it was supposed to be scandalous and whatnot. Well, unless you are a huge fan of the San Francisco gossip columns (since the 70's) you won't find anything too interesting here, beyond the first chapter. It seems like an open letter to a family from an emotionally wounded son, yet it goes on for a few too many hundred pages.
Kirstie
Dec 20, 2007 Kirstie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in celebrity life
This follows the autobiographical (though I am sure rather embellished) account of the son of a famous millionaire family (the Wilseys) on the West coast of America. Life must be weird when you grew up around Danielle Steele and I would guess things could only get better from then on. Our protagonist is a wreck and can't seem to get over the separation and divorce of his parents. While it's true that their relationships becomes strained with him caught in the middle and that he is not given the ...more
Larry Hoffer
I've been on a bit of a memoir kick recently, perhaps in an effort to prove to myself my life isn't all that messed up or bizarre. This book is the story of Sean Wilsey, who grew up a child of privilege in San Francisco, raised by his socialite mother and wealthy father...until the bottom dropped out when his parents divorce and his father remarries. Bounced between both households, treated horrendously by his stepmother and stepbrothers, Sean's life becomes increasingly more chaotic as he rebel ...more
Julie McNelis
Apr 05, 2008 Julie McNelis rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who need a long obsessive book to read
Addicting Obsessive fluff.

I bought this book at the Hong Kong airport last August and it has been my favorite flight companion since then. I was able to put the book down between flights, but the detail and depth of this long-winded memoir are so rich that the author has built a San Francisco high rise in my head.

The intimacy of Sean's tween/teenage confession brought me into the world of my new, wealthy, bad boy, wanna-be cool kid friend, suffering from his own entrapment in desire and frustrat
...more
Nathaniel Eaton
I read a lot of memoirs and this is by far my very favorite. When I was younger I was a big fan of Dave Eggers' A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, feeling finally there was a memoir written from my generation that broke the rules of a lot of its predecessors and was enthralling. in my late 20’s I came out to San Francisco and actually got to work with Dave Eggers at 826 Valencia. He knew what kind of books I liked and he handed me a early proof copy of Oh The Glory of It All. Dave Egger ...more
Alvin
The first third of this looong memoir follows the poor-little-rich boy story of Sean following the divorce of his father, the slightly bizarre and distant Al Wilsey and his mother, the beautiful, peppy, and quixotic Pat Montadon. Al remarries the fiendish Dede Wilsey and Pat decides to save the world from war in a crusade she dubs, Children as Teachers of Peace (a thoroughly woo woo waste of good intentions). It's a well-written and utterly fascinating read. The second third follows Sean's trans ...more
Greg Zimmerman
Near the end of Sean Wilsey's hilarious, engrossing coming-of-age memoir, Oh The Glory Of It All, he explains that "A memoir, at its heart, is written in order to figure out who you are." But there are other reasons, too — like outing your evil stepmother as a gold-digging, morally barren ho-bag; like creating a tribute to your dead father, who wasn't always your biggest fan; and like illustrating how different rich people are than we normals.

Rich people are interesting. Crazy people are interes
...more
Laura
Wilsey's memoir focuses mostly on his teen years, which included a bugfuck mother who took him to Soviet Russia to meet Gorbachev and to Vatican City to meet the Pope; a distant and selfish father (who was also fabulously wealthy -- huh, wonder whether one thing had anything to do with the other? naaaaaah); and a truly wicked stepmother (and not wicked in the sense of "wicked good," either).

Frankly, I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. Its effect on me can probably be conveyed best
...more
Minty McBunny
This is truly one of the weirdest memoirs I have ever read. I have no idea how it got published, but I don't care. It's mind-bogglingly awesome. It definitely could have used a harsher editor and Wilsey seems to lose his way at the end, but this is a fascinating glimpse into a truly bizarre upbringing.

I should add that my clock radio went off to a NPR story about San Francisco that used some sound bites of Dee Young while I was in the midst of reading this, and it was kind of a terrifying way to
...more
Sarah
This guy's story is a pretty perfect example of why the rich aren't necessarily to be envied. Not that some of us regular folks don't experience some of the problems that he confronted in his formative years, but, man, if detached rich people don't come up with some new and interesting crap to throw at their kids. This is a good story, and though primarily a memoir, secondarily it acts as a descriptive tour of the San Francisco and Marin areas in which he grew up.
Suzanne Gillis
I couldn't put this book down. I read it for hours at a stretch. I am exactly the same age as Sean Wilsey and had such an immensely different life from him--with just enough overlap to help me relate to him in more ways than I expected. He tells his story with raw, insightful, honest painful detail. And isn't that what a memoir should do? If I felt awkward and awful about my teenage fuck ups, his were worse. And so I get to take some shelter in reading his vulnerable self portrait.

There are mom
...more
Megan
Got this book with a stack of others for free at a friends moving sale. It sat on my shelf for 3 years unread because every time I read the back jacket cover I thought... Meh. Finally I had no other books left to read on a night when I really felt like reading and I picked up this charming, funny, quirky, at times bizarre and overall fascinating memoir.

I'm definitely a memoir fan, and more than famous people, I really enjoy reading about people with lives vastly different than my own. It's safe
...more
Rob Schorr
Interesting memoir of the authors various experiences growing up. From brushes with celebrities, to traveling the world, skateboarding in SF, to being sent to experimental boarding schools. If you grew up in the 80's this will definitely resonate with you.
Andrea
I agree with those who have said this book could have used a lot more editing. Too long with too much unnecessary detail. Above all I had a difficult time relating to the author--I didnt feel any rapport with him and that lessened the book's overall impact on me.
Ozma
I am almost ready to give this book 5 stars actually. It is just so sad and so evocative. Normally, I am against tell-all, self-indulgent memoirs (and I say this as a memoirist myself), but I actually think it's far better to write the story as a memoir than a bad, fake novel. And some things are so tough and hurtful, that there is no other way to tell the story. That is definitely the case here, where, and just to summarize the highlights, Sean's mega-rich father, on his third wife (Sean's beau ...more
Sketchbook
SF society : the good, bad and scathingly funny.
Rachel
I'm going to start off by saying I don't usually like memoirs. They're too self-indulgent for me. Wilsey's Oh the Glory of it All passed the test. His narrative voice is self-effacing without being whiny and honest without being braggy. He is first to point out his own weaknesses, owning up to his downfalls and crafting the story around them.

I didn't mind the length of the book because I liked "hearing" Wilsey tell his story--the parts where I feel the story dragged on were excerpts from journal
...more
Scott
Near the end of this, Wilsey writes, "I can't wait to write about something besides myself." Well, good, because I can't wait to read about something besides you. It took me months to read this. I took a break to read another book that was almost 1,000 pages that I finished, in comparison, within a couple weeks of picking it up.

Nearly 500 pages of tiny print covering the pages almost entirely. That's a lot for any book, and particularly so for a memoir of dreary content and forced humor.

I can't
...more
Mandi Matlock
It's so hard to give this one a star rating b/c I LOVED it sometimes and was mightily annoyed by it at others. The first 1/3 of the book held me spellbound. It was moving and captivating. His descriptions of everything - San Francisco, his mother, his feelings of isolation and longing - were absolutely riveting and evocative.

But his overindulgence in this skill wore me out at times. Especially in the second third of the book, when he went away to school after school. I admit my repulsion has mu
...more
Jewel
The first section is difficult to put down. Clever, witty, heartbreaking, hilarious, honest and engaging. A refreshing and provoking style, somewhere between Eggers and Augusten Burroughs, Wilsey takes me from a fantastical childhood straight down my own memory lane with the "evil stepmother", favoritism and the ultimate need to be loved.

The middle sections, focused on the schools is ironically my least favorite and I set the book down for a week. (Wilsey mentions at the end, his original inten
...more
L
Nov 17, 2011 L rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: overrated
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stephen Gallup
There isn't much to add to the many other reviews, which seem to be unanimous in focusing on the author's very privileged circumstances and the mess he made of everything. Having your parents involved in a bitter divorce has got to be hard, and having them be so self-absorbed surely inhibits the recovery, and then a case could be made that the truly evil step-mother finished him off. (I know she threatened to sue him for libel over this. Don't know the upshot of that, but the book cannot have he ...more
Jessica
I enjoyed this memoir about Sean Wilsey's childhood, but it didn't knock my socks off. Parts of it are interesting and engaging, but it could have used more editing. Basically I wasn't that inspired by Wilsey himself. He seemed like he had a hard time writing down the truth about his feelings, which made it nearly impossible to care a whole lot about the lack of good parenting in his life. I should be more concise: He writes "about" feelings but the words don't convey much most of the time.He se ...more
Clif Hostetler
This book made be feel a bit uncomfortable reading about personal and family matters that normally shouldn't be made public. But I enjoyed it anyway. The writing is good and carries the reader's interest. The story ends well with the teenager who was a royal screw-up finally becoming enough of a mature adult to write this book. Thank goodness he survived his childhood. The story makes me thankful that I wasn't born rich.

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Sean Wilsey (born 1970) is the author of the memoir Oh the Glory of It All,[1] which was published by Penguin in 2005. He is the son of Al Wilsey, a San Francisco businessman, and Pat Montandon, a socialite and peace activist, and the stepson of socialite and philanthropist Dede Wilsey (Diane Dow Buchanan Traina Wilsey). He is married to writer Daphne Beal, a former editor at The New Yorker, and t ...more
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“We are the bright new stars born of a screaming black hole, the nascent suns burst from the darkness, from the grasping void of space that folds and swallows -- a darkness that would devour anyone not as strong as we.” 5 likes
“A memoir, at its heart, is written in order to figure out who you are.” 2 likes
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