Love it or hate it, celebrity is one of the dominant features of modern life--and one of the least understood. Fred Inglis sets out to correct this problem in this entertaining and enlightening social history of modern celebrity, from eighteenth-century London to today's Hollywood. Vividly written and brimming with fascinating stories of figures whose lives mark important moments in the history of celebrity, this book explains how fame has changed over the past two-and-a-half centuries.
Starting with the first modern celebrities in mid-eighteenth-century London, including Samuel Johnson and the Prince Regent, the book traces the changing nature of celebrity and celebrities through the age of the Romantic hero, the European fin de si?cle, and the Gilded Age in New York and Chicago. In the twentieth century, the book covers the Jazz Age, the rise of political celebrities such as Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, and the democratization of celebrity in the postwar decades, as actors, rock stars, and sports heroes became the leading celebrities.
Arguing that celebrity is a mirror reflecting some of the worst as well as some of the best aspects of modern history itself, Inglis considers how the lives of the rich and famous provide not only entertainment but also social cohesion and, like morality plays, examples of what--and what not--to do.
This book will interest anyone who is curious about the history that lies behind one of the great preoccupations of our lives.
Cultural historian Inglis (Honorary Professor of Cultural History, Univ. of Warwick, UK) has written an intriguing reflection on how the phenomenon of celebrity shapes our perception of ourselves and our satisfaction with our own images. The book is uneven in quality; the chapters on movie stars, sports and rock figures, and newscasters are little more than thumbnail sketches of representative icons-Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Bobby Jones, Murrow and Cronkite, Eric Clapton, Princess Diana-with relatively lightweight commentary. But elsewhere the study is decidedly worthwhile: Inglis unfolds a schematic of the history of celebrity from its first appearance in the mid-18th century and delivers punishing judgment on the corrosive effects of today's overdependence on feelings and image to tell us what we think about ourselves. Inglis's book is not a jeremiad, but his observations on the danger of commodifying celebrityhood-think Tiger Woods-aren't encouraging. VERDICT This book will remind you of Christopher Lasch in thesis, but in tone and style, Inglis is closer to writers like Milan Kundera and Umberto Eco: he has crafted a playful but serious essay that delivers telling judgment on an important matter. It deserves a large and broad reading audience.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
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Princeton University Press
September 01, 2010
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