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Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore That Shaped Modern America

3.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  158 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
Pop culture meets pop reference in this irreverent tour of twenty unlikely events, innovations, and individuals that forever changed how we live today -- the food we eat, the places we live, the love we make, the fads we follow, the clothes we wear, the products we buy, and much more. Veteran journalists Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger make the offbeat their beat, rev ...more
Hardcover, 284 pages
Published April 1st 2004 by HarperTorch (first published 2004)
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Sandra Strange
This book reviews the history of many of the strands of culture we take so much for granted: thinness as judgment, angry talk show hosts, ease in using computers, the slam dunk in basketball and as metaphor, and many others. The book is interesting because of its subject and short narratives format; however, I must add two caveats-- (1) the book deals with Kinsey and his culture-changing (or reflecting) view of sex with a frankness (he was fairly untypical sexually) which may offend many readers ...more
Ketan Shah
A fascinating look at 20 inventions and trends that changed everyday American lives. Written in a breezy yet informative style that makes you think about trends and how they affect both the individual and society .The topics covered include everything from air conditioning,lawns,product placement,disposable diapers,zombies,the computer mouse,the Ford Edsel,the slam dunk to cross dressing wrestlers.My favourite chapter was the one on Gorgeous George,the flamboyant trash talking wrestler who influ ...more
Jan 10, 2016 Thebruce1314 rated it liked it
This book reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell's work, without the polished writing and research. Most of the chosen topics were of some interest, but I never felt like the authors got to the heart of each story - the preamble often lasted longer than the conclusion, with no sense of how we got there. And, despite what the title says, the chapters aren't really linked back to how each topic "shaped modern America," though I suppose it is implied in the narrative.
A book of passing interest to pick up
Tippy Jackson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 19, 2010 Nathan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The purpose of this book is explicit: to entertain, and to muse on the trends and traditions that have shaped American culture as we know it. It records fairly well; we are given the history of everything from diapers to talk radio; but having given us the facts, it doesn't tell us what to do with them, or why it matters. I don't have anything against "trivia as history", but personally, I would have preferred at least the broadest of common factors pointed out so as to tie everything together. ...more
Vikram K
Interesting but makes more sense if you are a American or have lived in the States for a long time.
2004- I sort of felt like the authors of this book put a whole bunch of ideas in a hat they liked and picked them out. It makes for an interesting (usually) mish-mash of stories about why things are the way they are in America. Touching on topics from America's obsessions with lawns to how air conditioning has affected politics, there are some interesting entries here to read just because you're an American. Other chapters seem like they are more geared to people with a specific interest (and wr ...more
Jan 23, 2014 Amber rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very entertaining and brought a new perspective to some everyday objects.
May 14, 2011 Victoria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anecdotes, nonfiction
I really loved the sty and layout of this book as much as I did its content! There were fun facts after each chapter, which I really liked. I also really appreciate the stories that were chosen for this book. It was a fun, easy, quick read. I will say that the author loses points for misspelling Worcester. I almost stopped reading it then. I'm glad that I didn't, though.
Each chapter gives short histories about pop culture. While working out, I read about the history of black velvet painting, how Les Paul made the electric guitar, how gender-bending showboating started with professional wrestling, and halfway through the history of celebrity gossip magazines. All in 50 minutes. A quick, light read about pop culture.
Austin Storm
Collection of essays (or 'blog posts' as the kids call them these days) about American pop culture. Sometimes the tone is distant, other times more judgemental. Entertaining, but would have benefitted from pictures- I couldn't remember what the Edsel looked like. Picked up for free, ultimately fun but nothing extraordinary.
Nov 24, 2008 Amber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Air conditioning made us sedentary and fat! People thought the electric guitar was a stupid idea! Velvet paintings have a history.

You can learn a lot from this book. It's not to complex and the writing isn't stellar but it makes up for it in the sheer amount of trivial knowledge you will pick up.
Nov 16, 2007 Tracey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pop culture fans looking for further reading
[Bought Nov 2007]
An interesting collection of mini-articles on various bits & pieces of (mostly American) pop culture - things, people and places.
I appreciated that each article had a "Further Reading" section at the end, with a more complete bibliography at the end of the book, along with an index.
Jan 05, 2009 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is what I would call History Lite, but I found it fairly interesting. It has individual chapters on different trends or inventions that we now take for granted in modern American life (from professional wrestling to wrinkle-free fabric), with historical context and (lite) analysis.
Fun, informative tidbits. It doesn't go into great depth on any of the topics touched upon, but it does give insight into some of society's norms which can be pretty nonsensical once examined.

I still hate lawns though and don't believe in them. Rebel!
May 04, 2010 Jake rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is truly amazing the things that we invent, believe in and ultimately sell to each other. This book was very interesting and made me think about all the things we give value to, simply because they are popular to our circle of friends.
Oct 17, 2008 Npaw rated it it was ok
So much more could have and should have been done with this. They introduce several interesting things, but never fully develop what is there. They offer a taste and I wanted a whole meal. And of course, dessert. Didn't happen.
Jun 16, 2010 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty entertaining in some cases, but it really depends on which chapter you're in. Some I couldn't care less about (golf clubs), but others were fascinating (the stories behind pantyhose, tacky chic, disposable diapers).
Jul 16, 2008 Gretta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like learning things they never knew they wanted to know.
Recommended to Gretta by: Cabin Fever
I've learned more while reading this book than I learned in four years at college. Or rather, I've learned more awesome things. Why no one thought to teach me about the history of the lawn is completely beyond my comprehension.
Yiftach Levy
Dec 27, 2009 Yiftach Levy rated it liked it
I love things like this - sort of true-life, behind-the-scenes alternative history. The chapter about Night of the Living Dead created the zombie movie genre is, of course, one of my favorites.
Jul 30, 2008 Scampi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in a soupy dumbed down context, not too bad considering. This is what I think of when I think of a book that just kinda stays in the bathroom for those "long visits".
Julie - Book Hooked Blog
I liked this one. It's not one I'll reread over and over or anything, but it was interesting and funny at points. Lots of fun trivia type information.
Justine Borer
Oct 04, 2009 Justine Borer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, gossipy, and easy to read. My favorite chapters were the ones about the advent of the fad diet and air-conditioning.
Apr 30, 2010 Mandy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun book -- I especially liked the 'recommended reading' lists at the end of each section. I'm a sucker for pop-culture trivia!
Aug 06, 2011 Alan added it
Interesting trivia about such diverse topics as air conditioning, lawns, pantyhose, and drug and alcohol rehab.
Feb 20, 2008 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
funny--things you never pondered, or maybe did, about the American culture
Interesting light summer reading.
Mar 10, 2010 Mark marked it as to-read
Well, might as well. :-)
Yasmine Wilson
Yasmine Wilson marked it as to-read
Apr 17, 2016
Andy marked it as to-read
Apr 06, 2016
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Author Martin J. Smith is editor-in-chief of the monthly Orange Coast magazine and a former senior editor of the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He wrote three crime novels, "Time Release," "Shadow Image," and the Edgar Award-nominated "Straw Men," before turning his writing energy to nonfiction books, including "Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America," "Poplorica: A Popular Histo ...more
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