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Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks And The Masters Of Noir

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  65 Ratings  ·  11 Reviews
Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, David Goodis … these are a few of the masters of noir responsible for the great lurid paperbacks of the thirties, forties, and fifties. With titles like The Big Sleep, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, and Street of the Lost, with racy cover lines like "My gun-butt smashed his skull!" and "Ruthless terr ...more
Paperback, 214 pages
Published March 22nd 1997 by Da Capo Press (first published 1981)
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Aug 09, 2011 David rated it liked it
Shelves: noirboiled
When this book was published in 1981, it was a revelation. In 2011, its flaws are much easier to see. Three examples: the book is an organizational mess; O'Brien uses the words "hardboiled" and "noir" as if they are synonyms, which hopelessly muddies the book's historical sweep; and when O'Brien gets wrapped up in his own eloquence, he has a tendency to drift into overstatements. Readers will be forgiven if they skip directly to Lee Horsley's opus The Noir Thriller.
Carla Remy
Apr 13, 2015 Carla Remy rated it it was amazing
Largely about paperback books, about their printing and their covers and their existence. Includes many, many cover reprints, but all in black and white. This is no beautiful coffee table book, it's one to actually read. Super in every way. Loved it.
He uses the term "collective mythology" for what I've been referring to using the word "zeitgeist". A good way of putting it, and in my own language, no less. Hmm.
Jan 20, 2015 Williwaw rated it liked it
This is a decent, but mildly frustrating book. O'Brien's voice has many inflections: he may wax in an overly poetic and scarcely understandable fashion for a while, and then suddenly shift gears into a strictly dry and informational voice. Occasionally, he hits a happy medium, during which he manages not only to convey the poetry of his subject in a coherent way, but also to guide the reader through the thickets of crime noir.

It's almost as if O'Brien wrote the various chapters of this book at w
Jul 11, 2014 Steven rated it really liked it
Shelves: film-noir-theory
Although it covers the same era, books, and writers as Haut’s Pulp Culture (1930s to 1960s American crime fiction), O’Brien’s approach is from a multitude of directions, which is both a strength and a weakness.The weakness is that the book comes off a bit like a collection of articles that are related but not tightly connected narratively, which I think is just a lack of editorial focus to not have woven the threads better. The strength of the book is that in addition to exploring the cultural b ...more
Antonius Block
This book was everything I had hoped it would be: an entertainingly written exegesis on the history of the paperback novel (and the specific brands like Pocket, Gold Medal, and Avon) and of the role the paperback played in mid-twentieth century American culture; a visual analysis of select paperback covers and what they came to represent; and a richly detailed introduction to the most important names that wrote noir fiction.

O’Brien is not only a great writer but a great thinker whose knowledge
Dec 28, 2014 Viktor rated it liked it
I liked it. However, the text will often talk about the cover of a book that there is no picture for. Also, the text will refer to a cover that is 50 pages further into the book.

I liked it, but it was frustrating to read.

Three Stars. Great stuff. Hard to read.
Dec 02, 2010 Paul rated it really liked it
This is a well-written and well-illustrated study by a man who knows his subjects-- film noir, paperback publishing history, mystery, detective, and other popular fiction, authors like Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Cornell Woolrich-- and loves his subjects. Apparently paperback collecting is a growing industry. Gosh, how could I forget another fascinating subject with which this author is thoroughly conversant, which I knew nothing about until reading this: cover art! Some of those old paperback cov ...more
Jun 30, 2013 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun, fast exploration of the early paperback industry, and the stuff about the industry itself, while I wasn't expecting it, was one of the best parts of the book. I was hoping for more about the literature and the writers, but what's here was enough to whet my appetite. The reading list in the back of the book is surprisingly inclusive, and it might be illuminating to read Faulkner and Steinbeck in the context of their "trashier" cousins.
Mar 02, 2008 Tosh rated it it was amazing
Geoffrey O'Brien is one of my favorite writers and editors - and he's a man who has a deep love for pop culture. Which brings up this jem of a book regarding the history of American Noir and its paperbacks. O'Brien is both a historian as well as a social critic (and poet) so his writing and reading of this subject matter goes through different levels. Smart man writes really well on a fascinating genre of writing and its publishing.
Cullen Gallagher
Apr 27, 2008 Cullen Gallagher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of all things hardboiled, noir, and mysterious.
Shelves: mystery
Brilliant study of the rise hardboiled fiction in the late 1930s through the mid-50s, with particular attention to the role the paperback publisher played, and especially the cover art! At once hilarious, insightful, critical, and loving, O'Brien manages to be a critic, a fan, a historian, and an eager 12-year-old stealing his father's books all at the same time.
Mar 28, 2008 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well written and informative.
I just wish all of the reproductions of cover art had been in full color.
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