West of Eden: An American Place

Stein is partial to writing oral histories—and a yarn-spinning chorus of voices seems particularly fitting for this latest project, the stories of five prominent families who helped make Los Angeles the glamorous, tragic, otherworldly place it is. Descendants and friends, along with famous folks like Joan Didion, Lauren Bacall, and Frank Gehry, reminisce about the Dohenys—a stupendously rich oil clan—and the famous Warner family, giving the book a deliciously gossipy feel. It’s less clear why Stein included the final three chapters on Jane Garland, Jennifer Jones, and her own family, the Steins, none of whom had the same cultural impact. Still, there’s nothing like delighting in others’ misery. B+