The White Album (book)

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The White Album
First edition
Author Joan Didion
Country United States
Language English
Genre Essays
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 222
ISBN 0-671-22685-1
OCLC 23163086

The White Album is a 1979 book of essays by Joan Didion. The entire contents of this book are reprinted in Didion's We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (2006).


I. The White Album[edit]

  • "The White Album" (1968–78)

"The White Album" is an autobiographical literary essay detailing loosely related events in the author's life in the 1960s, primarily in Los Angeles, California. In the course of describing her ongoing psychological difficulties, Didion discusses Black Panther Party meetings, drug-related experiences, a Doors recording session, various other interactions with LA musicians and cultural figures and several prison meetings with Linda Kasabian, a former follower of Charles Manson who was testifying against the group for the grisly Sharon Tate murders. Tate had been an acquaintance of Didion's. The murder trial cast a cloud of fear over Hollywood that seemed to propel many of Didion's insights. The impression conveyed is one of a city and nation pervaded by paranoia and detachment.

However, the ending, in which the author moves away from what she feels to be the unstable world of Hollywood and renovates an old house that possesses a few lingering associations with the 1960s, indicates that for her there is still the possibility of escaping the paranoia and unrest of that decade.

Publishers Weekly picked "The White Album" as one of the 10 most important essays since 1950, calling it "a brilliant mosaic distillation ... of California in the late 1960s." [1]

Martin Amis wrote critically of the book:

She stands revealed, in The White Album, as a human being who has managed to gouge another book out of herself, rather than as a writer who gets her living done on the side, or between the lines. The result is a volatile, occasionally brilliant, distinctly female contribution to the new New Journalism, diffident and imperious by turns, intimate yet categorical, self-effacingly listless and at the same time often subtly self-serving. She can still find her own perfect pitch for long stretches, and she has an almost embarrassingly sharp ear and unblinking eye for the Californian inanity. Seemingly obedient, though, to the verdicts of her psychiatric report, Miss Didion writes about everything with the same doom-conscious yet faintly abstract intensity of interest, whether remarking on the dress sense of one of Manson’s henchwomen, or indulging her curious obsession with Californian waterworks in these pieces, Miss Didion’s writing does not "reflect" her moods so much as dramatise them. "How she feels" has become, for the time being, how it is.[2]

II. California Republic[edit]

The liberal Episcopalian bishop is viewed as representing the shallower aspects of American spirituality.

  • "Holy Water" (1977)
  • "Many Mansions" (1977)

An account of a lavish Governor's mansion commissioned by Ronald Reagan, while Governor of California, which was not used.

  • "The Getty" (1977)

The Museum is viewed as an extension of power

  • "Bureaucrats" (1976)

The contemporary workings of Caltrans.

  • "Good Citizens" (1968–70)

Californian politics

  • "Notes Toward a Dreampolitik" (1968–70)

III. Women[edit]

  • "The Women's Movement" (1972)

A critical essay which views second-wave feminism as a Marxist substitute for the proletariat.

The author of The Golden Notebook is seen as a 'nativist' writer in the manner of Theodore Dreiser.

IV. Sojourns[edit]

  • "In the Islands"
  • "In Hollywood"
  • "In Bed"
  • "On the Road"
  • "On the Mall"
  • "In Bogotá"
  • "At the Dam"

V. On the Morning After the Sixties[edit]

  • "On the Morning After the Sixties"
  • "Quiet Days in Malibu"


  1. ^ "The Top 10 Essays Since 1950". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ Amis, Martin (February 1980) "Joan Didion's Style." London Review of Books, Vol II No 2. Page 3-4. (Retrieved 10-16-2014.)

External links[edit]