Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: 'Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach' by Laurence Leamer Review
Guest Reviewer: Meryl Gordon, Author of Mrs. Astor Regrets

Just the name--Palm Beach--conjures up an American fantasy of wealth, privilege and exclusivity. Laurence Leamer, in his well-written and entertaining new book, Madness Under the Royal Palms, offers up an inside look at this playground of the rich, and its under-class of social-climbing wannabes. Tracing the history of Palm Beach and its magnificent real estate, describing the fabulous parties, investigating some of the city's sordid secrets, Leamer's book provides a memorable, and at times haunting, portrayal of high society at a moment of transition, where things are often not what they seem.

From Publishers Weekly
Leamer (The Kennedy Women) reveals the secrets of the Palm Beach elite who reside behind the high walls and manicured hedges of this exclusive enclave. A winter resident since 1994, the author gains the trust of his subjects, playing tennis with them and attending their parties. Such firsthand experience is supplemented by newspaper articles and interviews with scores of men and women who, although usually guarded, are unusually open to Leamer (the informant for the chapter Palm Beach Millionaire Seeks Playmate gave the author access to his personal papers, including unpublished memoirs). The book's highly visual vignettes—dominated by divorce, infidelity, excessive drinking and violence—produce a depressing picture of sad, angry, insecure and frequently nasty people hiding behind empty smiles, luxury cars and socially invisible servants. Leamer reflects: Like [Henry] James, I found that few of the lives have the beauty of the surroundings, or the depths of the artistic vision that inspired this island. Some readers may find this book a penetrating portrayal of a privileged segment of the American population; others might regard it as a book-length gossip column. (Feb.)
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