The Best Pop Culture Tell-Alls
Last week, Marc Maron released the fascinating Waiting for the Punch, a compilation of celebrity interviews which digs into public figures’ emotional inner lives and is rife with intimate revalations. His book is only the latest of its kind: Over the decades, some of the most influential pop culture has been met with critical treatments, oral histories, and elaborate investigations as engrossing and interesting as their most popular subjects. Here, we present 25 prime examples: tell-alls that will give you new perspective on celebs and the business, but more importantly, will also just entertain the heck out of you.
You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips
Producer Julia Phillips risked a storied career with this wide-ranging exposé. The first woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture, she broke juicy stories about such Hollywood heavyweights as Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss.
Rebels on the Backlot by Sharon Waxman
Sharon Waxman paints a vivid, riveting picture of six boundary-breaking, maverick directors. The seasoned industry reporter reveals the good and the ugly behind the success stories of Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, and more.
Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris
Chronicling the making of five iconic New Hollywood films, Pictures at a Revolution explores how the blockbuster landscape of Hollywood was forever changed in the mid-60s — along with the expectations and tastes of moviegoers.
Indecent Exposure by David McClintick
Published in 1982, Indecent Exposure into inside the David Begelman scandal of the 1970s. Centered on a studio head and a forged check, it shook both coasts, engulfing Hollywood and Wall Street and derailing more than a few careers.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind
Easy Rider, the 1969 biker movie directed by Dennis Hopper, introduced a new era of Hollywood filmmakers who emerged at the fore of the trailblazing 70s. Biskind unpacks the history in this celebration of the generation that saved Hollywood.
Can I Go Now? by Brian Kellow
Kellow introduces Hollywood’s first powerhouse talent agent, Sue Mengers. He provides an irresistibly fresh take on the machinations of the business, with Mengers serving as its all-knowing, brilliantly opinionated guide.
Powerhouse by James Andrew Miller
Powerhouse provides a fascinating oral history of the the talent agency that’s represented everyone from Tom Cruise to Steven Spielberg to Jennifer Lawrence. As with any good Hollywood tale, there’s tons of dazzle and betrayal.
Memo from David O. Selznick by David O. Selznick
Pulling back the curtain in a way few books have been able, Memo from David O. Selznick features a compilation of memos written to directors, writers, stars, and studio executives from Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznic. It’s as unedite a foray into the Golden Age of Hollywood as you’ll find.
Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez
Part production diary, part how-to manual, screenwriter Robert Rodriguez details his rise and reveals the secrets behind how he made his debut film, El Mariachi, on a $7,000 budget. Skip film school and read this book instead: It’ll only set you back about $10.
The Devil's Candy by Julie Salamon
When director Brian De Palma agreed to give Julie Salamon unlimited access to the production of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities adaptation, he had no idea what a disaster the film would turn out to be. Fortunately, we get a front row seat.
I Want My MTV by Craig Marks & Rob Tannenbaum
Craig Marks tells the wild behind-the-scenes story of the network and the revolution that it created on cable TV. Featuring interviews with nearly four hundred artists, directors, VJs, and television and music executives, I Want My MTV is a love letter like no other.
Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
The Mary Tyler Moore Show remains one of the most beloved television shows of all time, a sitcom with the radical notion of centering on a single, working, ambitious woman. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong chronicles the making of the show, and hones in on the groundbreaking female writers who bared their life stories for the page, creating scripts that were equally personal, authentic, and bitingly funny.
The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith
The definitive history of Comedy Central’s late-night comedy staple The Daily Show: An Oral History reveals how a cheap talk show satire became both comedically revered and politically essential. Readers go behind the curtain and follow its path to success, including the careers it launched: Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, and many more.
Live From New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales & James Andrew Miller
Initially published to commemorate 30 years of Saturday Night Live, Live From New York has since emerged as the crucial companion to NBC’s venerable sketch series. Like SNL, the book is both edgy and accessible, good for comedy wonks and even better for those seeking confirmation of certain juicy gossip column rumors. (Yes, everybody really did hate Chevy Chase.)
The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall
Alan Sepinwall’s rich, enthrallin book is the best text out there on the evolution of TV drama. The longtime television writer mixes his signature criticism with in-depth interviews of showrunners such as David Simon (The Wire), David Chase (The Sopranos), and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) to authoritatively determine how television transformed into what it is today.
The War for Late Night by Bill Carter
If you think you know the real story behind the Tonight Show drama between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, you probably haven’t read Bill Carter’s book. Carter lays out the toxically competitive environment that pervaded late-night, from Leno and O’Brien to the likes of David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmys Fallon and Kimmel.
The Loudest Voice in the Room by Gabriel Sherman
Gabriel Sherman’s coverage of Fox News in 2016 made for some of the best reporting of this past election cycle. His book Loudest Voice in the Room is an earlier example of how he mastered the beat, as a severe but fair, warts-and-all portrait of Roger Ailes. Sherman gamely details his rise and fall, but if we’re being honest, his book is probably worth the read alone for how he reveals in a new afterword Ailes’ attempts to use his network to put Donald Trump in office.
The Business of Books by André Schiffrin
The Business of Books may hint at a rote publishing manual, but André Schiffrin’s work here is anything but. He reveals the publishing world to be a viciously cut-throat and intense industry that’s both powerful and crumbling. Indeed, Schiffrin’s birth into one of publishing’s most powerful families gives him fascinating perspective on this story about its gradual decline.
Hothouse by Boris Kachka
This national bestseller details the most influential book publishing house of the contemporary era: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Boris Kachka invites readers into the rooms where authors’ fates are decided and bidding wars are waged. Want insider’s knowledge on that Oprah Winfrey-Jonathan Franzen feud? Here’s your chance.
Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb
Former Knopf head Robert Gottlieb has edited the likes of Toni Morrison, John Cheever, Doris Lessing, John le Carré, Michael Crichton, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Graham, Robert Caro, Nora Ephron, and Bill Clinton — to name a few. In other words, you’ll want to read his account of the glory days of publishing.
Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick
Not every popular biography is going to make this list, granted. But with Last Train to Memphis, Peter Guralnick details not only the turbulent life and times of Elvis Presley, but also just how seismic his songs’ impact was on the pop music industry. For an icon of Elvis’ stature, it’s fittingly wide in scope.
Hit Men by Fredric Dannen
The hustlers and kingpins who once controlled the music industry come to crackling, controversial life in this salacious history. Hit Men, written by reporter Fredric Dannen, does an appropriately grimy job of unpacking the dirty inner workings of music in the 70s and 80s. (Also, we love a good title pun.)
Please Kill Me by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil
There’s plenty of great writing and still more to learn on the birth of punk, but Please Kill Me provides readers with the movement’s essential oral history. This anthology brings to life the voices, from Iggy Pop to the Ramones, that defined a generation of not only music, but also lifestyle and culture.
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson
Sam Wasson digs into Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany‘s and the frenzy that followed in this alternately sobering and thrilling deep dive. Among other revelations, readers learn that Truman Capote hated that Audrey Hepburn was cast as Holly Golightly, and more broadly believed that the movie adaptation tore his story to shreds. But through the many irresistible tidbits, Wasson also breaks down just how important this movie was for the modern woman.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman turns his infamously critical gaze onto the perils of lowbrow culture. Come for his enviably smart and comical voice, stay for his spectacular takedowns of everything from reality TV to Pamela Anderson to When Harry Met Sally.