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A Short History of Celebrity
Fred Inglis

Hardcover | 2010 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691135625
328 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 14 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400834396 |
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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 siècle, 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.


"Inglis's treatment is whimsical rather than exhaustive. Alert to the cultural value of iconic figures from Lord Byron to Eric Clapton, he also offers a stimulating assessment of how celebrity has, historically, involved fluctuating proportions of knowability and remoteness."--New Yorker

"The purpose of A Short History of Celebrity, Fred Inglis' brief, energetic, stimulating screed, is to tell us that, although we think we live in the age of celebrity, it's been quite a while in coming."--Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times

"Inglis is more even-handed than many of his colleagues, and sager too, able to see beyond the ephemera of the moment to take a more expansive view. He asks not simply what the culture of celebrity means today, but where it came from."--Darrin M. McMahon, Wall Street Journal

"In his thoughtful survey of pop culture since the dawn of modernity, Fred Inglis argues that mass obsession with the lives (and deaths) of the rich and famous didn't just pop up out of the blue. . . . In an attempt to give some depth to all the shallowness, Inglis, the author of 20 books including a biography of the late cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, goes in search of origins."--Joshua Kendall, Boston Globe

"With scholarly dexterity . . . Inglis describes the manipulation of political celebrities by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, followed by the postwar democratization of fame, as movie stars, sports heroes, and rock guitarists became leading celebrities. Through it all, Inglis argues the lucrative exploitation of the lives of the rich and famous has entailed an appeal to what audiences think of themselves--for better and for worse. . . . The Bottom Line: The development of the fame business comes into clearer focus as a result of Inglis' sophisticated perspective. Four stars out of five."--Paul M. Barrett, Bloomberg Businessweek

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgements ix

Part I: Fame and Feeling
Chapter 1: The Performance of Celebrity 3
Chapter 2: A Very Short History of the Feelings 19

Part II: The Rise of Celebrity: A Three-Part Invention
Chapter 3: The London-Brighton Road, 1760-1820 37
Chapter 4: Paris: Haute Couture and the Painting of Modern Life 74
Chapter 5: New York and Chicago: Robber Barons and the Gossip Column, 1880-1910 108

Part III: The Past in the Present
Chapter 6: The Geography of Recognition: Celebrity on Its Holidays 135
Chapter 7: The Great Dictators 158
Chapter 8: The Stars Look Down: The Democratisation of Celebrity 187
Chapter 9: From Each According to His Ability: Sport, Rock, Fashion, and the Self 217
Chapter 10: Stories We Tell Ourselves about Ourselves 247 Envoi: Cherishing Citizens 270

Notes 289
List of Illustrations 303
Index 305

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Fred Inglis:

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