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Gimme Shelter

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  133 ratings  ·  48 reviews

"Of course I want a home," writes Mary Elizabeth Williams, "I'm American." Gimme Shelter is the first book to reveal how this primal desire, "encoded into our cultural DNA," drove our nation to extremes, from the heights of an unprecedented housing boom to the depths of an unparalleled crash.

As a writer and parent in New York City, Williams is careful to ground her real-

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 3rd 2009 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2009)
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God created realtors to make lawyers and publicists look honest.
Mary Elizabeth Williams

The day after Thanksgiving in 2006, I went house-hunting for what I hope is the LAST TIME in my life. We toured 13 properties that day. The highlight was the gorgeous, supposedly haunted, Queen Anne-style home that we really couldn't afford, but the realtor was kind enough to show us anyway. The lowlight was an oddball house someone had started to remodel, then just walked away from, leaving shingles and opene
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
1.0 out of 5 stars The moaning of the plagued privileged is not a pretty sound., March 9, 2009
By Alexandra Henshel - See all my reviews

Gimme Shelter: Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast-Talking Brokers and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching For The American Dream is the whole overblown title, which promises much more than is delivered in this surprisingly weightless book.

For 310 pages, Williams moans with the dreadfully
I remember when MaryBeth started posting on Table Talk about the book that she was writing. A few people reacted with something like "not another memoir!" As I read the first few pages of Gimme Shelter, it occurred to me (not for the first time) that a lot of a reader's enjoyment of a memoir comes less from the subject matter and more from the author's voice and writing style. MaryBeth manages to crack me up regularly, both in the book and in her other writing. Hell, she had me at the last line ...more
I'm wavering between 3 and 4 stars for this. It's not one I think many people would really enjoy, but for me, it was a fun read. It reminded me of our own journey through building our dream home several years ago, at about the same time she's searching through tiny, ratty apartments in NYC that cost about the same amount as our "dream!" I found her light and refreshing to read. I found it interesting, that the author is obviously not religious, and yet, she and her husband are always trying to m ...more
From my blog:

Gimme Shelter! by Mary Elizabeth Williams. I shoulda known from the title! that the book wouldn't be as good as I hoped. Gimme Shelter! is a book about the housing bubble as experienced by one New Yorker with no insights. Ms. Williams mostly takes her husband and two daughters around to different open houses on weekends. If we're lucky, the houses and condos she's visiting are comically messy, but mostly they're just empty like houses are when people sell them. Occasionally she th
It seems that the best way for me to add my increasingly devalued two cents for this one is in the form of a brief response to Lexi’s recent review. Lame certainly, but I’m tired and my mother’s the only one who claims to read these things anyway.

On the one hand I completely agree with Lexi’s opinion that the lengthy title promises more than is delivered. Beyond some cursory post-bubble statistics at the book’s conclusion, topics such as sub prime loans hardly get attention beyond what the broke
I tore through this book in a weekend and I never do that! Mary Elizabeth Williams does the impossible-- she explains the sub-prime crisis in easy to understand terms, she effortlessly weaves together tales of very different people pursuing the dream of home ownership, and she makes us care deeply about the outcome of her own family's home search. At turns funny, frustrating, suspenseful, and poignant, "Gimme Shelter" is a must-read for anyone who has toured one too many stinky run-down open hou ...more
William Burruss
DISCLAIMER: This review is written by a commercial Realtor.

Now reporting this, I feel Gimme Shelter is a pretty good book. Memoires are not my typical read, but I do like the many anecdotes concerning her friends looking for a house, or city to live. She also writes during one of the two worst times in recent real estate history. – The first being the late 1980’s and early ‘90s when The Resolution Trust was created.

What I feel would make this book stronger is if Ms. Williams had created some di
this book didn't do much for me. besides annoy me. it's the memoir of a woman who became fixated on the idea of buying a house in new york city at the height of the housing bubble, when everyone & their dog was buying houses way out of their logical price ranges with adjustable rate mortgages & no-documentation loans. she & her husband try to be a little more sensible, & budget for a house topping out at $400,000, but did i mention that they are looking to buy in new york city? e ...more
Mary Elizabeth Williams, her husband and two daughters's search for a home in New York City is recounted in Gimme Shelter- Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast-talking Brokers, and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.

Timing is everything, and Mary Elizabeth and her husband started their search in 2003,at the height of the home buying insanity. After living in a cramped apartment with one daughter and another on the way, she convinced her husband it was time to loo
A slightly unsatisfying mix of personal home-buying memoir and history of the 2000s-era housing market. Contrary to reviewers who say that you have to know New York to find the details interesting, I loved being introduced to the various neighborhoods where the author and her family searched for housing. Unfortunately, the discussion of larger market trends felt a little shallow. In addition, in order to broaden the focus from her personal experience to marketwide trends, the author frequently a ...more
If you haven't tried looking for real estate in the New York City area (or similarly overheated markets), Gimme Shelter, a memoir about Mary Elizabeth Williams' three-year search for a place to buy for her family on a middle class salary in NYC, may mystify you. After all, how hard could it be? But Williams captures the frustration and emotional rollercoaster of trying to buy a home while maintaining your dignity in a take-no-prisoners market just before the bubble burst. She chronicles the hear ...more
Christine E.
I found this a really enjoyable read, both as memoir and as an exploration of a particular economic reality -- being a middle class family in an expensive urban area. I can relate to loving the place you live in and going to what might seem like extreme measures to others to stay there. But people who aren't as place-sensitive may wonder why Mary Beth and family didn't just move somewhere else already!

But I could understand why it was important to them to try to maintain the community, the frie
S. Gari
Williams has an engaging voice that is part stand-up comic, part "nosy-neighbor- that-you-actually-like-and-trust". As someone who moved away from New York to find affordable housing, I could totally relate to her journey. She approaches what could have been a dry, academic subject entrenched in statistics and charts about the economy, and makes it what it really is: a longform human interest story that is quintessentially American- even though it borrows its title from The Stones.
Mary Elizabeth Williams is smart with a sharp sense of humor. Good thing as these seem like minimal requirements to house hunt in New York City. The book follows two years of her family's search for a home in one of the most expensive housing markets. Reading this, it all came back -- the affordable dumps, the completely-unaffordable-never-in-this-incarnation great places, the high-pressure real estate agents, the sellers who can't make up their minds, and just the sheer endurance required.

I fo
Mark Sequeira
This was an okay book about the trials of home buying in New York in a runaway economy. It details the highs and lows and the gritty real-life account of 4--500k dumps being offed on people a year or so ago. I could have done without some of the language - seems any contemporary account has to include expletives to gain some kind of street cred or to have an authentic 'voice.' Unfortunately, that is also true with conversations so maybe this is just the author's real voice after all. It seems th ...more
James Mooney
I thought Gimme Shelter was a great book and the only reason I did not give it 5 stars because I read it after my wife and I bought a house and if it had been available before we had bought our house it would have been a great asset to us and maybe we would have avoided some pit falls we experienced (like a 400 dollar mistake in our escrow) that raided our mortgage from 1900 plus to 2400 plus.
This book came out right after my husband and I went through the hell of trying to find an affordable house in our hometown in PA. I could related to Ms. Williams many rollercoaster like moments of triumphs and pitfalls when searching for the perfect home. In the end, Ms. Williams and her family don't find the perfect dream home but they find a place they can call home. The book touches on the mortgage mess of the past 7 to 8 years that has now helped many buyers default. It seems the American d ...more
Diana Joseph

I can't say I always understood the language spoken by banks and realtors. Piggyback mortgage, they'd say. Balloon payment. Financing and refinancing, subprime interest rates, APR. But MaryElizabeth Williams in her memoir Gimme Shelter provides the clearest explanations of these terms I've ever come across.

This is not the say her book is dry or encyclopedic. I appreciated the clarity of Williams' writing, but I really loved the story of her own quest to buy a house. I found myself invested in th
Nothing makes you feel better about your own housing plight than talking to a New Yorker. Williams quest to find a home for her growing family without losing her soul is fascinating. There is a little of everything here: city vs. suburbs, appropriate home sizes, the housing bubble, gentrification, and parental choices. A lot of other reviewers find Williams to be overpriviledged and delusional, but I completely disagree. It is not delusional to want a modest home in a decent and diverse neighbor ...more
As one who obsessed over our own family's real estate choices three years ago, it was interesting to read about someone else's ride on the home buying roller coaster. I have no specific knowledge of areas of New York, and found her somewhat frequent mentions of lists of neighborhoods/areas a bit irritating, as though I should know precisely where these places were. Her writing style was engaging overall, and although I didn't hit every word/every page, it was entertaining enough. It also prompte ...more
A good, but not great, book. I never fully understood the author's obsession with owning an apartment that was smaller than the unit they were renting, except to figure she too got caught up in the real estate frenzy in the middle of this decade. The author didn't seem willing to admit this to herself. And at the end, to lambast the very mortgages that enabled her to be able to buy a unit seemed disingenuous. I think I'd like to read someone else's account of the foibles of home ownership for a ...more
I am a big Willams fan; I follow her on Twitter and read her in Salon regularly. I find her smart, informed, and sarcastic. Today, I was sick in bed all day, and this is what I chose to read. Its a couple of years old, but resonates still - the housing bubble, the subprime lending debacle, the squeeze-out of the middle class, especially in areas like San Francisco, Miami, and Williams' home court, New York City. Some memoir and personal narrative/commentary is interspersed: what home/family/comm ...more
As memoirs go, this is a pretty light read about a startlingly familiar situation. I'm not up to house-hunting just yet, though I'm aware of the prices, but I am still an apartment-dweller and I move a lot. And I live in Boston. So I'm intimately familiar with the "anything we can afford is going to suck" phenomenon.

The geography in the book is different (NYC instead of Boston) but I can certainly relate to the situation. Not quite 4 stars, maybe 3.5, but it did entertain me more than a mediocr
This memoir was so difficult to put down. I bought my first place 2 years ago, and I lived in NYC for 5 years and it was a captivating memoir. From the schadenfreaude aspect, I was thrilled to know my own house search was simpler, and my place is both bigger and cheaper (I was already 99% sure but it's nice to know how much bigger and how much cheaper!) Williams is a great writer, very down-to-earth and relatable, with a charming family. It was so pleasant to spend time with her and her family.
Sarah Jane
May 10, 2009 Sarah Jane rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all of you
There are many good things to be found inside this book. Along with a memoir of her family's quest to purchase a home, the author provides a crash-course in the lending market. I for one am new to much of this information, so reading this was quite a learning experience for me. She manages to make the story of her home purchase into an exciting adventure, and I admit I was on the edge of my seat wanting to find out what happened next. Who knew mortgages and home buying could be so exciting?
I read this while I was in Brooklyn, (from Seattle) visiting my daughter. She and her husband would also like to buy their own place, so it was fun to read about all the trials and tribulations, and the author's feelings about friends, neighborhood and big city living, and the trade offs that must be made when choosing where to live. It would have been fun if there were photos and floor plans. I couldn't get my daughter to read it (too close to home )
I loved reading this. I'm a huge fan of Mary Beth's writing style anyway, and so this book was a treat in that regard. But even more than that, I got emotionally wrapped up in the narrative: I related, I empathized, I learned, I cringed, I wondered, I hoped, I sighed. Anyone else who has been frustrated by the various socioeconomic issues facing the middle class in America, and particularly in the NYC area, will find a lot to think about here.
A fun and honest look at purchasing a home (apartment) in New York. The author discusses the longing for home ownership as well as the trials and tribulations of searching for that perfect home, dealing with real estate agents, and finding out just how much you're worth to the mortgage brokers. Since we were going through the process of selling our home at the time, her story hit "home" even more!
While this book is probably not something most people would enjoy, I liked it. Maybe even almost liked it a 4 star rating. Having like the author, spent most of the housing bubble looking and not finding a house and neighborhood of my dreams, I really identified with this author's experience. I didn't not however enjoy all of the words she used, so be warned.
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