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A Short History of Celebrity
Fred Inglis

Book Description | Table of Contents
Chapter 1 [in PDF format]


"From the glamour of John F. Kennedy's 'Camelot' to Ronald Reagan's rise from B movies and Barack Obama's election campaign, celebrity makes power, money and the world go around. At long last, we have a decent book that goes some way to explain how it got this way."--Mark Beech, Bloomberg

"Byron was one of the first products of the alloy of glamour and publicity that we refer to as celebrity. In his new book, A Short History of Celebrity, Fred Inglis traces the phenomenon back to late 18th-century London. It was there, he argues, with its convergence of theatre and journalism and new opportunities to shop, that celebrity began."--Aditya Chakrabortty, The Guardian

"Fred Inglis has added his learned, sometimes curmudgeonly, often rhapsodic voice to the chorus, with a book that locates the origins of celebrity culture in the 18th century. . . . This emphasis on the history of emotion is what distinguishes Inglis's book from the other accounts of celebrity, making it more than just a great hall of historical fame. Inglis sees these emotional shifts as working concurrently with changing social forces that turned life itself into a spectator sport."--Lara Feigel, The Observer

"[A]n intriguing reflection on how the phenomenon of celebrity shapes our perception of ourselves and our satisfaction with our own images. . . . [Inglis] 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, Library Journal

"Inglis is a magnificently erudite writer who lingers over his subject as though it were a good cigar."--Frances Wilson, Literary Review

"[A] very interesting book. . . . What makes his 'short history' so compelling is how Inglis combines an eye for captivating detail (the actor David Garrick being forced to kneel by a 'jeering audience'), the illuminating comparison (Sarah Bernhardt versus Lola Montez, Hitler versus Edward VIII), and the synoptic view ('A Very Short History of the Feelings'). . . . It not only surveys an extraordinary range of persons, their acts and their import in a sophisticated way, but it induces further thought about the ambivalent powers of celebrity."--Justin Clemens, Sydney Morning Herald

"A Short History of Celebrity is an excellent book. The prose is fabulous, and Inglis is brimming with insight and humor. Moreover, one can't help being drawn into tales of the rich and fabulous. However we may flatter ourselves, the stars are just not like us."--Alex Prescott-Couch, Berlin Review of Books

"In his smartly written and engaging book, cultural historian Inglis successfully tackles a potentially cumbersome topic with the brevity promised in the title. . . . Erudite and entertaining."--Choice

"[C]harming."--Cleveland Plain Dealer

"His transatlantic argument weaves dozens of celebrity case studies into a compelling macro-narrative that artfully balances historical anecdote, cultural theory, histories of ideas, and rhetorical inquires. The result is a thoroughly readable and fascinating exposition of how celebrity identities have enthralled, defined, and reprised western cultures since the middle of the eighteenth century."--Brian Bates, Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre

"Without doubt Inglis writes an original reference work that provides both a framework of analysis and a comprehensive inventory of illustrations, pointing to the centrality of celebrity to American life."--Adriana Neagu, American British and Canadian Studies


"With breathtaking range and panache, A Short History of Celebrity provides a keenly observed interpretation of the emergence of modern transatlantic popular culture. At once learned and accessible, Inglis's vivacious prose reveals the contradictions of icons as diverse as Joshua Reynolds and Lord Byron, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. His insights into the popular heroes of art, literature, and the stage and screen (including television), as well as politics and public life, enable us to appreciate continuities that stretch across two-hundred-and-fifty years."--Richard D. Brown, professor emeritus, University of Connecticut

"Celebrity is ripe for anatomizing, and in this enjoyable work of cultural history Inglis performs an exemplary dissection, showing both the pains and the pleasures, the shame and the virtues, of the modern cult of celebrity. This is vintage Inglis: funny, coruscating, biting."--Krishan Kumar, University of Virginia

"This is a fascinating, remarkable, and thought-provoking book. Its great value is that it doesn't begin with Survivor, Big Brother, or Oprah. Instead, Fred Inglis extends his study back to the eighteenth century and gives attention to painting, gossip columns, and wartime dictators, among much else. Inglis is a powerful and engaging writer and this book is a pleasure to read."--Tara Brabazon, University of Brighton

"Fred Inglis has a distinctive voice as he explores our ambivalence toward celebrities and the phenomenon of celebrity itself. Filled with examples and quotable passages, this is a heartfelt book by a man who is grounded in Wittgenstein yet familiar with David Beckham."--Richard Howells, King's College London

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File created: 4/21/2017

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