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Hip: The History

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  496 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
Hip: The History is the story of how American pop culture has evolved throughout the twentieth century to its current position as world cultural touchstone. How did hip become such an obsession? From sex and music to fashion and commerce, John Leland tracks the arc of ideas as they move from subterranean Bohemia to Madison Avenue and back again. Hip: The History examines h ...more
ebook, 432 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,134)
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Mar 07, 2013 Jay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that turns out to be more about whiteness, than the cross-racial hybridity it ostensibly claims. Even though Leland sees hip as the point of mixture between the races and having a tense relationship with the mainstream, he fails to take note of the fact that "hip" is always only declared so when it encounters white society deems it so and finds value in it. In a sense, whiteness is the only constant in his understanding of hip. And that the author does not perceive or name this is an indi ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Alyx rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book! John Leland proved himself a great pop culture critic with his Singles column for Spin during its early run (for curious readers, troll Google Books for the August 1989 issue, which includes "Temporary Music" -- it's about dance, temporality, and the Protestant work ethic). I had no doubt he'd pull off a comprehensive history of hip. In doing so, he really gets at the formation of the United States, class conflicts, hip's entrepreneurial spirit, and the racial tension ...more
Dec 30, 2015 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I had an incredible amount of fun progressing through this well organized catalogue and chronicle of how hip came to be and what it has been and is (please tell me) in America. The author articulated more than a few of my intuitions into truths (for example, the notion that "hip" is uniquely American and that everyone else has to import it from us, not that this makes us any less ugly).

What made this book much richer than, say, Lewis MacAdams' also worthwhile Birth of the Cool is the power of Le
Dec 01, 2008 Aimee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hip is stolen from black people and men have traditionally been more hip than women because they didn't get pregnant and could leave their house/children and write their great novels.
Mar 10, 2015 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I used to be *with it*, but then they changed what *it* was. Now what I'm with isn't *it*, and what's *it* seems weird and scary to me." - Abraham Simpson

Conventional wisdom says you can't define what is hip, but you know it if you see it. But John Leland makes a pretty valiant effort, outlining the history of successive generations of hipness from the 19th century counterculturalists like Twain and Whitman, through Hemingway's Lost Generation, the days of jazz and bebop, the 50's beatniks, 70'
Apr 13, 2012 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
In detailing his history of hip, John Leland touches on a range of fascinating cultural touchstones: Mark Twain, Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac, Lou Reed. But he turns them all to dubious ends, borrowing their cache to make himself the authority on hip.

Hip, it turns out, is whatever John Leland says it is, and the definition drifts from page to page. The book's real purpose, beyond giving the author an uninterrupted platform for 356 pages, is to show that whatever hip may be, John Leland is hipper th
Pitchfork is not hip. I don't know when it stopped being hip, or if it ever was, or if it is something outsiders to hipsterdom took as a reflection of hipster taste. But today, and over the last two years at least, I don't see hipsters mention Pitchfork except to dismiss it.

What makes Pitchfork distinctly not hip, as far as I can tell, is that it is painfully deliberate and self-conscious. Self-conscious not in a hipster fashion, which is all about being hyper-aware and yet indulging in a Keats
Nov 06, 2008 Stacie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, music
Hip : characterized by a keen informed awareness of or involvement in the newest developments or styles


In Hip: The History, John Leland paints an American tale of the birth and development of hip. His journey through the generations begins with the slave trade and ends right here -- on the Net. This historical account is detailed enough to be taught in any college sociology/American history class but hip enough for students to enjoy. The anecdotes Leland provides drag yo
Mar 14, 2013 Jela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“For better and worse, hip represents a dream of America. At its best, it imagines the racial fluidity of pop culture as the real America, the one we are yearning to become” (6). Hip, an ideal eternally sought after, yet undeniably difficult to define is the subject of Hip: the History written by New York Times reporter and former editor-in-chief of Details magazine, John Leland. Leland traces the provocative history of hip and its influence on American popular culture from proto-hip mixing of ...more
Patrick McCoy
Sep 27, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hip: The History by John Leland chronicles what it means to be hip by finding its African origins on the plantations of the 17th century to the hip enclaves in places like Williamsburg, Brooklyn today. He sees that the mixing of groups were instrumental in creating a synthesis of ideas and finds that much of the white co-opting of black culture contributed to this throughout culture from minstrel shows to Elvis to Eminem. New York was often ground zero for new aspects of hipness due to the mixin ...more
Peter Lindstrom
Apr 29, 2015 Peter Lindstrom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not really history, more a collection of historical trivia, but well-organized, always interesting and culturally informative. Here is a typical example: You may not (and many scholars don't) accept Leland's claim the word "hip" comes from "hep" & "hep cat," originally "hepicat," a word from the Wolof language of West Africa that means: "one who has his eyes open." But even if it's just a story, Leland uses it for a great chapter on the influence of the African Diaspora on American culture.
Oct 25, 2009 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a love/hate relationship with this book. While I enjoyed Leland's comprehensive review of the origins of "hip," his smarmy, self-important tone drove me crazy. I loved learning more about why white people love minstrel shows, the historical importance of Williams Burroughs and why trucker hats were briefly considered hip, but I'm not sure if slogging through Leland's insufferable musings was worth it (for a prime example of this, read his passage on 353 & 354 justifying the age old sto ...more
Apr 25, 2010 m. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hip: The History is a breath of fresh air. In a society obsessed with race that tries so hard to dissolve this dichotomy, John Leland presents us with a history of the concept of hip, which he uses to present the reader an inclusive, rather than divisive notion of race, and how it has come to solidify what we can understand as American culture. A constant reader of books on race relations in America, it can, many times, be overbearing to read about the stringent line that is black and white. Lel ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

In Hip: A History, Leland goes far beyond our standard definitions of "hip," defined by various American writers, artists, and musicians. Critics agree that Leland's done his homework__what's more fun than listening to jazz, reading Beat generation literature, or watching old movies? But in his exploration of hipness, Leland leaves a little something to be desired. The book is eclectic, but not always choosy in its examples or satisfying in its analysis. While fun, Hip contains glib, overly deta

Christian Holub
May 14, 2014 Christian Holub rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book. I tried figuring out the meaning of "hipster" for a feature once ( but I bit off more than I could chew. You really do need a 300-page book to properly discuss the topic. I'll be thinking about this book for awhile.
M. Milner
Leland’s book doubles as both a narrative history of what is hip in America and as a look at how race, language and culture have intermingled to become known as hip over the past century. Hip, argues Leland, runs almost right through from novelists like Herman Melville to performers like Notorious BIG, with stops along the way in Beat and Jazz culture. Leland’s account is detailed, although he tends to move around from topic to topic, and at times almost feels like a textbook.

Still, he does a gr
April Raine
Enjoyable and definitely interesting, but fuzzy in historical knowledge and understanding. Also, some pieces of the argument are ill-informed and profoundly ignorant. However, if you are looking for something, with random bits of information pertaining to American culture, this book is worth your time.
Karen Blanchette
An interesting history of an interesting topic. However, I did feel like his definition of "hip" was a little too narrow. There was a lot of reference to drug use as being "hip" while there was little mention of how eating organic, shopping at whole foods and doing yoga is "hip". I think that "hip" is an abstract concept that happen in specific waves and that the focus of the drugs and the racial aspect of "hip" is just one wave out of many that could also be considered "hip" for completely diff ...more
Daniel Hadley
There is something un-hip about reading a history book on hipness. But I did it anyway, and I liked it. Leland traces the history of hip from the slave trade through the civil war all the way to white hipster williamsburg. Hip, he argues, comes from the convergences and tensions between cultures - more specifically, between black and white. It flourished in times of migration and flux, such as the Great Migration, which brought 1.4 million African Americans from the South to the cities of the No ...more
Jun 05, 2007 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Scholars
In the midst of a veritable research abyss whilst writing a major investigative paper on [what else?] hipsters, my Research Assistant [Mia Steinle] discovered this books in the depths of the AU library, bless her heart! Leland writes for Spin and the NY Times, about pop culture and music, mostly, and this piece is a very thoroughly written investigation of the different stages of hip throughout the 20th Century.
My favorite chapter is the one about gender and it looks at the different feminisms p
Michael Borshuk
Jul 19, 2011 Michael Borshuk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling and entertaining history of that most American of cultural phenomena: hipness, that quality of being in the know and a step ahead of your mainstream counterparts. Leland builds well on other cultural historians like Ann Douglas in arguing that the intersection of American ethnic and racial factions produced a cultural space in the cracks that hipsters have been occupying since at least the middle of the 19th century. Comprehensive in its research and outrageously funny at times in c ...more
Chad Hall
This book seems to always make it onto my ever-evolving top 10. It's definitely one of my favorite books. Leland's research and ability to connect seemingly disparate eras is astounding. I doubt anyone else can match his understanding on the function of hip in society. This is my third time reading the book and it fascinates me every time. I could easily list over thirty passages but you're better off reading the book. Leland takes the terminally uncool task of dissecting "hip" and manages to ma ...more
Suzanne Macartney
Apr 16, 2014 Suzanne Macartney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Worthwhile. A chapter on 1920s era literary characters links them to the changing economy; men found it hard to be men proper when they left the farm and left self-employment. Now under the foot of the boss by day and a Victorian era spouse at all other times, masculinity took a hit.

This historian likens early Rap stars to the the angry & talented Beat generation musicians of the 1940s-50s. Also cites some rap lyrics and explains the poetry. I enjoyed it.
Jan 10, 2008 Shannon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: never-finished
The subject matter of this book is really fascinating and I had every intention of finishing it. However, the writing style is so dense and somewhat stilted that I just couldn't push through. My biggest complaint is that the author likes to write sentences with long list of names. Names of people I dont know. I guess I am just not hip enough to get it. maybe someday I will revisit in an attempt to reclaim my hipster cred. .
John Pecorelli
This book is well packaged and the writing is excellent, I just disagree with its premise that all things hip in the States eminate either from black culture or from nyc. those things are responsible for a lot of hip, no doubt. but all of it? plus it's just tiresome to read about how hip beats and beboppers were -- it's a cliche. still, Leland is a fine writer and the book is fun to read.
Sep 21, 2008 Renée rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is meticulously researched, engaging and smart, but at times I felt like Leland kept hitting the reader with the same mantras about the nature of "hip." However, it strikes me as a good book interms of looking at a slice of cultural history, and I could find this to be a useful book for engaging students and student writers. Leland resists the glib and sentimental.
Aug 25, 2008 Sheila rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, but didactic. It's a little like he's beating you over the head with his thesis. I do like that it discusses punk, the beats, cool jazz, etc. I'm just have a little trouble picking it up again eventhough I'm almost done with it. I've enjoyed other pop culture texts more.
Mar 19, 2010 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is genius - a successful attempt to define the loose term "Hip", it's origin(s) and its metamorphosis through the decades. Incredibily informative, and one of the most interesting history books I've ever read.
May 02, 2007 Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another Socy book. It brings you though all of the musical fads, poets, pop icons since the 1900's. You learn all about these people and how they affected social understanding and fads. An easy read and a page turner.
Feb 02, 2011 Terri rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culturalstudies
Time to admit that I'm not going to get through this one. The subject matter is interesting, and I enjoyed some of the analyses, but I just can't click with the writing.
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John Leland, also Leyland (13 September, c. 1503-06 – 18 April 1552), was an English poet and antiquary. He has been described as 'the father of English local history'.
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