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A Cool Million

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  574 ratings  ·  78 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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3.68  · 
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 ·  574 ratings  ·  78 reviews

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Bill  Kerwin
Mar 04, 2016 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
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: american
America as Farce

In the 1930’s America still considered itself a young country with much to learn. By all appearances almost a century later the country has matured into itself, becoming more of what it already was. Unfortunately it hasn’t learned much at all.

Rubes, sharp businessmen, and thieves (as well as the odd paedophile or two) - these are the demographic categories in West’s farce of American life. These groups are governed by a combination of corrupt officials, brutal police, and a justi
Rick Slane
This tragicomedy debunks the Horatio Alger Jr. myths of the American Dream during the 1930's depression. This is an unknown gem.
Sep 04, 2013 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 14, 2009 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
Sep 03, 2014 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
Apr 06, 2008 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 02, 2011 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.
Oct 17, 2014 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
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
May 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
Oh my god Nathanael West what are you doing to me ughhh
James Steele
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This is an uncomfortable book to read. First things first: there are only two women in the story, Lem’s mother, and his girlfriend. His mother goes missing at the beginning of the book, and his girlfriend gets raped over and over throughout the story. Not explicitly, of course, but wow. Is that really all the author can think to do with a female character? The second uncomfortable thing is the oh-my-God racist caricatures. Every racial stereotype is in this book, and I can’t tell if they’re bein ...more
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, w

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
Jan 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel-us
West's update of Candide, with the protagonist a poor Vermont boy who suffers numerous bodily indignities (loss of teeth, eye, etc.) during the depression. Recently mentioned in the New York Times Book Review as a novel relevant today for its portrayal of Shagpoke Whipple, an ex-President who becomes a fascist leader. I didn't find it terribly "relevant," but the novel wasn't a waste of my time.

Although the novel is short, I would not recommend it for those who have not read Nathanael West befor
Aug 30, 2013 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 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
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Horatio Alger narratives receive the thorough pissing-on that they deserve. The myths we tell ourselves have a nasty habit of enduring - proven by the fact that huge chunks of this novel are just as timely today: many will find the finale uncomfortably close to where we find ourselves in 2018. An incredibly vicious satire - depressing that West only wrote four novels before his untimely death, he's maybe the greatest literary what-if I've ever encountered.
Jun 30, 2013 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
Dec 19, 2014 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.
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really like Nathanael West. He really is quite a bitter satirist, and a grim one at that. This book is quite grim, where almost nothing good ever happens. Very bleak... in a good way.
Kobe Bryant
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
He didnt pull any punches on this one
Feb 05, 2017 rated it liked it
In this vicious, upside-down Horatio Alger parody, I've found what must be the source for Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events! Poor Lemuel Pitkin, swindled out of his home, falls prey to a series of disasters that result in the loss of an eye, his teeth, a thumb, a leg, his scalp, and ultimately his life. Check out the hilarious Shagpoke Whipple, ex-president, ex-con, and template for the pirate currently occupying the White House. Funny book, but not for the faint of heart.
Matthew Hunter
Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Apparently, I'm in an authors-who-met-a-tragic-demise phase. First it was William Lindsay Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley who overdosed on sleeping pills and died with business cards in his pocket stating "No Address. No Phone. No Business. No Money. Retired." Now it's Nathanael West who, one day after his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald died, ran a stop sign in El Centro, California which caused a collision and killed he and his wife Eileen McKenney. But I digress.

In A Cool Million, West takes a
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
Derek Baldwin
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In which the righteous foes of "sophistication, Marxism and International Capitalism" make America great again. And you can't help reading this rather good little satire without being reminded of the similarities between the time of its writing - the Great Depression - and the current... oh... whatever the fuck this is....

Frequently hilarious, in particular the matter of fact way with which narrative obstacles are effortlessly negotiated. Be aware that the racial stereotypes are (deliberately) c
Katie Quinn
This is definitely not one of my favorites. I am almost always open-minded when it comes to books but this one was just too absurd and strange for me. The main character is constantly being shoved back by an obstacle that is always overwhelmingly devastating (for example, he loses an eye, he is arrested multiple times, he is beaten countless times) that it became frustrating and predictable after awhile. It was hard to read after awhile, which again I can accept in literature, but it was just pa ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The Horatio Alger and the Candide comparisons aside, this is probably the (black) comically harshest slap-in-the-face for American values that I have read. The chops later shown in The Day of the Locusts are not there, but the simplistic writing aids the ridiculous coincidences and occurrences in the life of the hero, Lem Pitkin. The made-up story of Mr. Whipple having been hit by a bus is made funnier by the storyteller mentioning that it was a sightseeing bus. The huge notion of America alwa ...more
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
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
A startling, even shocking, short novel that has its naive hero, Lem Pitkin, travel from Vermont to NYC and out west only to have him systematically (and literally) taken apart by various cheats and scam artists as he searches to make his fortune during the Depression. West really let his bile flow here, almost cheerfully documenting Lem's misfortunes as well as the equally horrifying fate of his female companion, who suffers a horrific fate even before she is white-slaved to a New York brothel. ...more
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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 Rhode Island, 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 too ...more
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“Furthermore, having lost faith in himself, he thought it his duty to undermine the nation's faith in itself.” 0 likes
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