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American Tabloid

(Underworld USA #1)

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  18,167 ratings  ·  926 reviews
We are behind, and below, the scenes of JFK's presidential election, the Bay of Pigs, the assassination—in the underworld that connects Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, D.C....

Where the CIA, the Mob, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa, Cuban political exiles, and various loose cannons conspire in a covert anarchy...

Where the right drugs, the right amount of cash, the
Paperback, 1st Vintage Books edition (US/CAN), 592 pages
Published April 2001 by Vintage Books (first published February 14th 1995)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  18,167 ratings  ·  926 reviews

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James Ellroy has called me a panty sniffer to my face. Granted, he calls everyone at his book signings a variety of colorful names, but I still like the idea that I’ve been personally mock-insulted by one of my favorite authors. This is his best novel, and my love for it is pretty much unconditional.

As proof of my devotion: My internet alias is from a character in it, and I’ve got an autographed copy of it sitting on my shelf along with an signed copy of the sequel, The Cold Six Thousand. The t
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
to paraphrase kris kristofferson: if it sounds fucked up, man, that's because it is.

sometimes i chug coffee to the point where i'm glazed with sweat, red-eyed, about to crap my pants, and i throw my headphones on and blast either miles davis bitches brew or motorhead ace of spades. i sit down in front of the computer and write write write. and the result is exactly what you'd imagine from a mediocre writer w/a flair for the hyperbolic all hopped up on caffeine. not too good. imagine, however, i
Apr 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
Check out the prose. Dig the style. Raymond Carver looks verbose. Hemingway looks weak and fey.

Dig the streamlined story. 1500 pages of plot compacted into 576.

Dig the violence. The greed. The manipulations, the conspiracies.

Check out the Outfit. The Beard. The Cadre. Jimmy and the Klan. The Hair and Little Brother all gunning towards history like a hophead mainlining a speedball.

Check out the geek posing at writing this review.

Dan Schwent
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-books, 2018
The fates of three men, Ward Littell, Kemper Boyd, and Pete Bondurant, are forever entwined in the era of mobsters, Fidel Castro, and the Kennedys.

Yeah, that's not much of a teaser but there's no quick way to sum this one up.

American Tabloid takes key figures of the late 1950s and early 1960s and pisses all over them. Ellroy is back to the trinity of sin structure that worked so well in The Big Nowhere and LA Confidential. His three leads, Ward Littell, Kemper Boyd, and Pete Bondurant, rise and
He used to pimp and pull shakedowns. Now he rode shotgun to History.
Whoa, Ellroy's done it again: another 5-star read. So far, that's 5 out of 5 for me. This time, he takes his talent for weaving complex plots and conspiracies from his 50's Los Angeles setting and unleashes it nationwide in an epic re-shaping of the country's turbulent history between 1958 and 1963 as we follow three men who play pivotal roles in the events that ultimately lead to that infamous day in Dallas, Texas
Oct 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Whoa. This book is the literary equivalent of sticking your head out of a car window at 80mph.

I don’t hear this talk much anymore, but at one point folks were very interested in defining and/or writing “The Great American Novel.” I assert that this may be it. Forget everything about grandma and her apple pie, with this book Ellroy grabs us by our collective red, white, and blue lapels and flings us out of the barn loft into a big warm pile of the real history of the United States. As unpleasant
Sep 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, ebook, 2016
I began reading this book around mid-December but given the chaotic nature of my life at the time, I found it nearly impossible to focus. Seeing as Ellroy’s American Tabloid is a novel that commands your attention, a wandering mind will do you no favors. So when things settled down, I picked it back up, determined to dive back into the world of mid-20th century America and read all about The Kennedys, the FBI/CIA, Jimmy Hoffa and the Communist Red Scare.

With American Tabloid, Ellroy is uncomprom
LeAnne: GeezerMom
This is a LONG read, loaded with umpteen characters and written in choppy, gumshoe detective language. The basic run down -this is a chronologically presented story of three characters who played a role in the eventual assassination of JFK.

My curiosity about Jimmy Hoffa, Howard Hughes, J Edgar Hoover, the Mafia, the Cubans, and the government are what kept me reading, but the language and content was very much a throwback (read offensive). Here were lots of babes and their booberage, very violen
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, aere-perennius
“He used to pimp and pull shakedowns. Now he rode shotgun to History.”
― James Ellroy, American Tabloid


Could I give this six stars? I'm almost serious. I've said in reviews of le Carré, that long, long after the temporary prince and princesses of pop literature (Yes, I'm looking at your Foer brothers, etc) are dead and their novels pulped for the next 21st-century style of Ikea furniture, people are going to still be reading James Ellroy.

Look, I'm only 1/3 into the Underworld USA trilogy, but I
aPriL does feral sometimes
If readers haven’t encountered one of my schizophrenic reviews that litter my GR book diary here and there, I’m writing another one again. I always feel torn when I admire the talented writing and/or depth of research and ideas of a writer, and ultimately, the author’s tricky mind, but at the same time, I also think the subject/characters are despicable, horrible and unpleasant. One such book that I read previously was by Octavia Butler, ‘Fledgling’. ‘American Tabloid’ is another. Once again, I ...more
America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can’t ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can’t lose what you lacked at conception.

Conspiracy theorists have been among us since the inception of mankind. Whenever an event of a particular scale and importance happens they will be there, in the background, quietly (well, not always) disputing the official story and proposing alternative explanations. Con
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
On Tour

In 1996, Ellroy toured Australia with one of my favourite bands, the Jackson Code.
Ellroy did a number of readings from AT, then the band played and then he sang/narrated with the band.
It was a great night, although I am hazy on the detail.
It was an early date with my wife, and I didn't get as drunk as I would otherwise have done (and do now), but I am hazy nevertheless.
I don't know how they got the idea to do a gig like this.
I remember that Ellroy wore a great Hawaiian shirt.
He looked lik
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
American Tabloid is the kind of no-holds-barred masterpiece that makes me want to buy extra copies and foist them on everyone I know. It's a complex, tangled epic with the propulsive pacing of the best thrillers and it somehow manages to move hundreds of characters through double- and triple-alliances and betrayals without losing track of who they are, what they're doing, and what they want. It has the weight of tragedy while simultaneously being a book that calls Jack Ruby a dog-fucker. In othe ...more
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Supercollider Story
"In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight.
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Near the village, the peaceful village,
The lion sleeps tonight."
The Tokens, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, 1961

Named by Time magazine as 1995's Best Fiction, American Tabloid is the literary equivalent of "packing heat and unloading." Written in a pugnacious style I haven't really read before, the book centers on 3 men: Kemper Boyd, a philandering FBI agent recruited by J. Edgar Hoov
Ɗẳɳ  2.☊
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Okay, I will reluctantly post my first review here. Up to now, I've never really felt the need to do my own reviews. I'd rather leave that to the semi-professional book bloggers & "power users" out there. Who, quite frankly, are much better at it than me. Typically, once I finish a book, I merely post my take on whichever friends' reviews I happen to like the most. I also find myself skimming many long reviews so I hope to keep this short. I'll leave the synopsis for the pros. So without further ...more
I have to start this review with what a ride!

L.A. Confidential
is one of my favorite movie dramas, but when I tried to read the L.A. Quartet, the writing was too choppy to read and I gave up quickly. This time I went into the Underworld U.S.A. trilogy on audiobook, and it was the best decision. Not only was the narrator perfect for the job, but I got the terrifically mean story without being tripped up by three-word sentences and single-page chapters.

American Tabloid is an outstanding piece of
Nov 22, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: central north carolina
while ellroy's chandler-on-crack routine is exhausting stylistically [mock sample excerpt: "this spic commie was a real cooze hound. dig his geeked-out arsenal: 20 30.06 shells, three silencer-rigged .45s, a rapemobile-mounted shotgun. agency/outfit sanctioned figured kemper boyd."], _american tabloid_'s dark reimagining of early-60s optimism as a cesspool of cynical political power plays underscored by mixed alliances, double- and triple-crosses, and the reduction of the era's most "powerful/in ...more
It took me a while to get hooked, and then I was hooked, and it’s an American classic. I have no idea how I wound up caring about Pete Bondurant. And Kemper Boyd. And Ward Littell. It should not be possible. That’s Ellroy’s genius.
Aug 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
This is the first Ellroy I've read, and it will likely be the last. Mostly because I find it impossible to take this seriously.

I don't doubt for a minute his portrayal of mobsters and G-men and teamsters run amok in the fifties and sixties; I'm sure they were just as violent and hellbent on mayhem as they're depicted here. His gloss on the Bay of Pigs jibes, too. There is one neat bit of business following a character's slow arc from soft-skinned do-gooder alcoholic into revenge-driven killer. B
Jun 17, 2012 rated it liked it
(this was a diversion, something to transport)

Much of the GR community shares a united front on American Tabloid, comparing it to meth or serial lines of blow, Ellroy is credited with thousands of pages of plot stripped down to slide into a mere 600 page volume. There is a measure of truth in said consensus. Well some of the metaphors do work. It does often appear that an acetylene torch is applied to the reader's soul. Events do come tumbling into focus and then disappear in the span of a few p
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
B's got a crush on Pete Bondurant from ever since way back when he first read The Cold Six Thousand but Kemper Boyd's my guy - gets me every time with his classic compartmentalization (nobody likes Ward, but I have a little bit of a soft spot for him). I put off finishing this for as long as I could because I didn't want it to end because it's totally brilliant and because Ellroy does the passage of time so well that even though it'd been two days and I was halfway through it felt like I'd lived ...more
Dec 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just posted this but I was listening to the Fugs and this song should be the fucking theme to this book:

Who can kill a general in his bed?
Overthrow dictators if they're Red?
Fucking A-man!
CIA man!

Who can buy a government so cheap?
Change a cabinet without a squeak?
Fucking A-man!
CIA man!

Who can train guerrillas by the dozens?
Send them out to kill their untrained cousins?
Fucking A-man!
CIA man!

Who can get a budget that's so great?
Who will be the 51st state?
Who has got the secret-est service?
One tha
I'm unlikely to read this. I remember too well the brutal destruction of hope in America, both Kennedy and the GOP obstruction of Obama, and the current GOP treason as the planet dies. ...more
Curtis Retherford
Feb 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club-books
Reprehensible and inept.

The characters are almost entirely identical: They talk the same, they think the same, they all stumble through the plot in the same way: numb, cocksure, and without any discernible motivation for any of their actions. This book lacks even the cookie-cutter archetypes of a standard noir, which it so clearly wants to be. Instead, each character simply goes from crime to crime with no particular purpose. They are devoid of morals, but Ellroy has failed to give anything inte
Sep 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime-mystery
Like the milieus of Ellroy's other books, that of American Tabloid is a wicked, wicked, wicked world. Ellroy has created a new genre, the historical noir, that integrates these named genres but taking them to the nth power of brutality and evil.

Like his other novels, there are cops, gangsters, movie stars and politicians, but there are no heroes, only characters seeking their agendas, working out their neuroses, brutalizing others, and in the end, just killing or dying. Yes, a wicked, wicked, w
Nick Black
Oct 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: likely-reread
It had some really memorable lines, but overall I dug The Cold Six Thousand more. We'll see how Blood's a Rover goes, but overall I'm thinking James Ellroy is something I'd enjoyed much more eight years ago. What's the point, Pete/Boyd/Wayne/Littell? For such multitalented, resourceful and industrious individuals, they sure seem to lack any meaningful weltanschauung of their own, content to play the part of vessels. Not a stride is broken upon the death of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX late in this firs ...more
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
With each successive book (beginning with the LA quartet), Ellroy refines his art. Style, entertainment and substance. A richly imagined, horrific, and hard-as-nails fantasy.
Jason Allison
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ellroy is Ellroy, and the rest of us aren’t. That’s just how it is.
Colin McKay Miller
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those who can stand Ellroy's bent
Shelves: novels
James Ellroy’s American Tabloid may not be as good as The Black Dahlia, but it’s still an excellent, historically-based crime novel.

James Ellroy isn’t for everyone. It isn’t just his staccato neo-noir voice or his violent stories. He often writes characters that, at the very least, display racist and misogynistic tendencies. Ellroy himself has been accused of these very things and has responded in, well, Ellroy-like fashion (pretty much him insulting and cussing at people without really addressi
Gus Sanchez
Apr 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing

Yeah. Wow.

This was my first James Ellroy novel, and he did not disappoint. On the contrary, I developed a major hard-on for his hard-assed prose, and his dark, morally ambiguous characters - gotta say Pete Bondurant is now one of my favorite fictional characters ever.

I won't bore you with the details or the plot behind "American Tabloid", the first in a trilogy of works sketching out the nefarious doings of those in power, but if you love fiction that's both hard-edged and replete with his
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James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York ...more

Other books in the series

Underworld USA (3 books)
  • The Cold Six Thousand (Underworld USA #2)
  • Blood's a Rover (Underworld USA, #3)

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12 likes · 25 comments
“America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can't ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can't lose what you lacked at conception.
Mass-market nostalgia gets you hopped up for a past that never existed. Hagiography sanctifies shuck-and-jive politicians and reinvents their expedient gestures as moments of great moral weight. Our continuing narrative line is blurred past truth and hindsight. Only a reckless verisimilitude can set that line straight.
The real Trinity of Camelot was Look Good, Kick Ass, Get Laid. Jack Kennedy was the mythological front man for a particularly juicy slice of our history. He called a slick line and wore a world-class haircut. He was Bill Clinton minus pervasive media scrutiny and a few rolls of flab.
Jack got whacked at the optimum moment to assure his sainthood. Lies continue to swirl around his eternal flame. It's time to dislodge his urn and cast light on a few men who attended his ascent and facilitated his fall.
They were rouge cops and shakedown artist. They were wiretappers and soldiers of fortune and faggot lounge entertainers. Had one second of their lives deviated off course, American History would not exist as we know it.
It's time to demythologize an era and build a new myth from the gutter to the stars. It's time to embrace bad men and the price they paid to secretly define there time.
Here's to them.”
“America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can't ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can't lose what you lacked at conception.” 9 likes
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