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Slouching Towards Bethlehem Paperback – 25 Jan 1993

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New edition edition (25 Jan. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006545890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006545897
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 372,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Didion's essays of a world featuring barricades and bombings, mass murders and kidnapped heiresses make recent history as filtered through her seem a savage and passionate drama, something you can put a hand on and feel it beating, something you can put your ear to and hear its story."
VILLAGE VOICE

"Brilliant, troubling, indelible tales and reflections."
SAN DIEGO TRIBUNE

"Reveals a wholly original analytic mind, a sensibility as expansive and idiosyncratic as a 19th-century novelist's."
MONA SIMPSON

"Our quintessential essayist."
JERRY KOSINSKI, 'LA Times'

From the Back Cover

"It was not a country in open revolution. It was not a country under enemy siege. It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the GNP high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not…"

"So physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate" that people tended to forget that her presence ran counter to their best interests, Joan Didion slipped herself into the heart of the Sixties Revolution, only to slip out again with this savage masterpiece, which, since first publication in 1968, has been acknowledged as an unparalleled report on the state of America during those curious days. Now that some of the posturing and pronouncements of those times are being recycled, Didion's sobering reflections are timely once again: 'the future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past."

"Didion's essays of a world featuring barricades and bombings, mass murders and kidnapped heiresses make recent history as filtered through her seem a savage and passionate drama, something you can put a hand on and feel it beating, something you can put your ear to and hear its story."
VILLAGE VOICE

"Brilliant, troubling, indelible tales and reflections."
SAN DIEGO TRIBUNE

"Reveals a wholly original analytic mind, a sensibility as expansive and idiosyncratic as a 19th-century novelist's."
MONA SIMPSON

"Our quintessential essayist."
JERRY KOSINSKI, 'LA Times'


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
A number of journalistic pieces collected under Flamingo's Sixties Classics imprint, one can see how this book made an impact in America on publication. Joan Didion is a highly respected writer and though many of the name-checks and cultural appurtenances went over my head, I enjoyed this even though I felt I was looking through the wrong end of a telescope some of the time.

Her piece about the sixties in Haight Ashbury, when the flower-power `revolution' was happening, is suitably sceptical of the times and the culture of San Francisco's hippy scene. Drug-taking, child neglect and sexism, lay just under the counter of the synthetic sixties, yet there is a sense of the freedom, or an illusion of freedom, wafting in the air. She does not write much about the music, however, which remains a severe loss to the totality of the picture painted.

The hippy article and that of the title, are the most interesting pieces in the book, which consists elsewhere of a kind of travelogue of various places where Didion has lived. The title comes from the W B Yeats poem and sets up a dark frisson which is never quite lived up to in the content.

"A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, it's hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Nb. Why is the same review repeated six times on this page?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
It has been years since I read any Joan Didion, but I remembered her as an acute, honest observer of the human condition, who wrote incisive prose. Now that the `60's rank with the ancient history of the Peloponnesian Wars for over half the American population, I decided to re-read one of her classic works, and was not disappointed; in fact, her essays aged well, and resonated with my own life experiences.

The essay that lends its name to the title of this collection is the longest, "Slouching towards Bethlehem," concerning Haight-Asbury in 1967, and a title taken from a W.B Yeats poem. It is a sad, honest portrait, and Didion highlights the inarticulateness of those who washed in, seeking a new utopia. None of the portraits show much empathy, and some are justifiable frightening, particularly how the young children were being raised. And she foreshadows the dark side of what would become of the "summer of love."

Overall, the collection of essays is divided into thirds, with the first part focusing on various aspects of California. I felt the strongest one is "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," which concerns a woman who fled a fundamentalist existence in Manitoba, marries, pursues the "dream," and eventually burns her husband to death. There are other telling vignettes on John Wayne, Howard Hughes and Joan Baez, along with a "Comrade Laski."

The second section of essays are personal reflections, such as the thoughts on maintaining a notebook, and the third section is entitled "Seven Places of the Mind," in reality her reflections on visits to her "real" home in Sacramento, and others on Hawaii, Alcatraz, Newport, R.I., Guaymas, Mexico, her new home of Los Angeles, and NYC.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alex Magpie on 29 Jan. 2003
Format: Hardcover
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is "what was going on in California in 1968" and reads as a complete mix bag of tricks. There's a description of a murder trial, a wild goose chase through hippy and drug culture, a trip to Hawaii and a middle section "personals" which is about Didion's life. As a collection of articles rather than a story there are no characters to emphasise with- interest is purely concentrated on the subject Didion is discussing at the time. This makes it quite difficult to connect with the text despite the attempts of the author to include herself in the writings.
Another problem in reading this book is its place in time- it was written in 1968 for 1968- many of the people, ideas and places no longer have the importance they once did so the book reads like a piece of historic spectatorship. In understanding the late 1960's this is fine- but as someone who did not live through this time many references are lost on me, as I'm sure they would be on most people under 40.
Possibly the most engaging and dynamic piece in the book is its namesake Slouching Through Bethlehem which focuses on interviewing young, drugged up hippies and Didion's attempts to find them. What emerges most out of this chapter is the character of these people- they predominantly seem innocent and friendly if naive and disillusioned. There's an openness that exists among them even though some are heavy heroin users and as such have to break the law and live in squalor as a daily routine. This is where the book stands up and demands to be noticed. Didion seems to sympathise with these drop outs even though in her introduction she writes explicitly- "writers are always selling people out"- in this case she is defiantly not selling the people she has met out.
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