Seven Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin
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Seven Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  727 ratings  ·  61 reviews
In Seven Dirty Words, journalist and cultural critic James Sullivan tells the story of Alternative America from the 1950s to the present, from the singular vantage point of George Carlin, the Catholic boy for whom nothing was sacred. A critical biography, Seven Dirty Words is an insightful (and, of course, hilarious) examination of Carlin's body of work as it pertained to...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by Da Capo Press (first published 2010)
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Colleen Martin
This was pretty dull. It read more like a study of the TV and entertainment industry in the '60s and '70s that happened to mention Carlin a few times than an account of his life. I found myself zoning out more than I usually do when listening to an audiobook. Carlin's posthumous Last Words was way more fun and enlightening.
While I found a lot of Carlin's history in his rise to famous comic interesting I wouldn't call this a compelling read. Like a lot of biographies it was pretty dry and some what boring recitation of times and places occasionally punctuated with some humour.

Learning that Carlin appeared on the Mike Douglas show with John Lennon and Yoko Ono as co-hosts was actually a surprise to me. I would dearly love to see that episode. I also learned why he hates golfers. It's a few of these gems that made t...more
Matt ONeil
I've read hundreds of bios. James Sullivan is unique in his attention to backstory, making each making each entry about his subject that much more interesting
Just listened to this on audiobooks. Interesting to contemplate how much things have changed since the 1950s!
The writing was not enjoyable. The contents were not the information about Carlin I am interested in. A lot of boring detailing of Carlin's career. 'then he was on this talk show, then he was on that talk show, then he released this album, then it didn't win the grammy, etc etc'. The author would briefly mention something interesting like Carlin's political beliefs beginning to shift or that he was kicked out of school or the air force, and then immediately go back into detailing what happens ne...more
No biography of George Carlin could possibly be as entertaining as the man himself. The author has done a seemingly well-researched job of outlining and detailing every step of Carlin's life and career, but there's no indication the two ever met, so the biography's still a little distant, as if he were writing about Teddy Roosevelt.

There's some interesting insight, though, learning how Carlin was influenced by Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Jonathan Winters and was a model for the comedy of Jerry S...more
Kate Woods Walker
I have the 2011 Reading Challenge to thank for the delayed, but ultimately satisfying, completion of this well-researched biography. It had been just a few months prior to picking up this book that I read George Carlin and Tony Hendra's "sorta-biography" Last Words, and 7 Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin seemed a bit dry and detached in comparison. Add to that the author's penchant for throwing in a few too many edifying facts about others (Bob and Ray were, "like Fred Allen," n...more
This boring book has many of the basic facts of Carlin's life (in a dull city-by-city, appearance-by-appearance manner) but is nothing more than an elongated Wikipedia entry with no context and material pulled completely from magazine or TV interviews. The writing style is like reading a term paper and the author has an annoying way of stopping the narrative when he gets to a new Carlin experience to explain the person or show Carlin works with. For example, the writer can't just say Carlin was...more
I was thrilled to find out more of the back story of my favorite comedian. I listened to his albums over and over and stole his jokes to make friends.. well my ONE friend, laugh -- back before I turned eighteen.

I found it interesting how much of a 'straight' career George Carlin had, before he became his hippy dippy weatherman character. You could summarize his career as writer, comedian, comedian, passive political activist. He came along between two major influences in comedy, Lenny Bruce and...more
Clark  Isaacs
James Sullivan pulls no punches when he writes about the rise of George Carlin in “7 Dirty Words”, words that the United States Supreme Court ruled were patently offensive to be said on the airwaves as regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Historically, this is a good book, which talks about Carlin’s rise as a comic from being a class clown to performing in Carnegie Hall. This is an adult biographical chronology which includes those infamous words, but they are only run together thr...more
nonfiction/biography. I admit that I wasn't listening attentively to the whole book (I like to use the playaways to read myself to sleep) but the parts I caught were interesting--a very remarkable and accomplished life, all things considered. I did notice some chapters repeated parts of other chapters, but in this playaway format it doesn't really matter.
This was a very good biography. It was honest, clear and very useful in understanding Carlin the man, the comedienne and the importance of and contribution to English language that he made during his life. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a better understanding of Carlin and his history.
This was the right kind of book to tackle a topic as epic as the life of George Carlin.

There were so many ways that the author could have become bogged down in the drug abuse issues and in particular trying to raise Carlin's comedy up to some overly lofty ideal that in its original design it was never meant to be. Carlin wanted to point out the absurdity, but did not do so with the intention of changing the world. He just realized we all needed to laugh at ourselves from time to time.

But this...more
An excellent window into the life of one of the 20th century's most enduring comedic figures, James Sullivan's Seven Dirty Words follows George Carlin from his humble beginnings in White Harlem, his start as part of silly comedy duo, his first early successes as a traditional "clean" comic making $250,000 a year, to his reinvention as a counter-culture figure who challenged the status quo until his death as one of the grandfathers of modern comedy. The writing style is engaging, although I found...more
James Piper
Bio of George Carlin. If you're looking for laughs, you won't find them here. Perhaps the odd chuckle.

The book explores Carlin's life with an emphasis on his professional career as a stand-up comedian and the various transformations in his career.

It's not a narrative non-fiction so don't expect to be entertained. The first third is more a data dump of radio stations, TV shows, night clubs and the myriad people involved.

There are no startling revelations.

Part of the book deals with the 7 words y...more
I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book, but it was more than what I got. Still an interesting chronicle of Carlin's life and career and his place in the comic pantheon.
Fortunately biographies of comedians are usually good for quite a few laughs, and this one is no exception.
I discovered Carlin in high school and spent the next several summers listening to his many HBO specials with my brother during our lazy days. Sullivan captures the details of Carlin's life in a fluid style that encompasses his many professional triumphs and personal struggles without losing his readers in minutia.

Happily, this biography combines some of Carlin's best bits in the personal and cultural context in which they were first birthed. For all that, the book is a work of scholarship, not...more
Steve Shilstone
Well researched. Plenty of info. Just wish George had written it himself.
Steve Johnson
I thought from the title that this book might be similar to the dry but fascinating (at least for First Amendment nerds) The Trials of Lenny Bruce, focusing on Carlin's court battles, and in particular the 7 Dirty Words Supreme Court case. Turns out, it's pretty much a straight biography covering Carlin's entire career. A lot of of the material here will be familiar to anyone who's read Last Words (Carlin's autobiography), but Sullivan provides a lot of context that's missing in Carlin's memoir,...more
Seven dirty words is a biography of George Carlin and highlights his early years, and the development of his comic career. The book spends a fair amount of time telling the story of the seven dirty words which ended up in front of the supreme court. I saw Carlin at Penn State and have heard a number of his bits. His outlook on things was a bit bleak but he was always a master with words and very funny and irreverent. This book provides a great look into that same individual many of us have heard...more
I suppose that I was attracted to this book because I already liked George Carlin before I read it. However, I don't know if this bio would have made me want to listen to Carlin if I knew nothing of his style & wit. I kept wanting this author to use more extensive examples of Carlin's comedy -- but maybe this was the wrong type of book for that. Still, I enjoyed getting a fuller perspective of the man and a better understanding of how he went from a straight laced traditional comedian to cou...more
Kurt Anderson
I love George Carlin - he is definitely one of the voices in my head. So I expected to enjoy this biography more.
The parts about Carlin were good but, sadly, a good 40% of the book was only (at best) tangentially related to him. That 40% was a general overview of the transformation of the entertainment industry from the 50s to the present. While interesting, that's not what I was interested in reading about.
Still, the book succeeded in making me respect Carlin even more than I already did. Which...more
Red Dwyer
As a lifelong Carlin fan, there were portions of this book which interested me greatly. I would have done better with the audio book, as the text put me to sleep too often. With the depth of the reporting (this reads like an encyclopedia), this would have been better as two books: One focused on the vital statistics of Carlin's life and one on the career roller coaster.

If you are into Carlin trivia, there are gems to be mined. If you are looking for the signature Carlin humor, buy one of Carlin'...more
Robb Bridson
A George Carlin biography is essentially a history of comedy from the '50s onward. As someone not born until after class clown and only knowing Carlin for his later career after he helped change our entire pop culture landscape, there is a lot of interesting info in this book. Toward the end it begins to be mostly a list of Carlin albums, but for the most part it is the evolution of American comedy, including a lot on comedians who influenced and were influenced by Carlin.
Interesting for any fan...more
Jul 09, 2012 Sean rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one!
I love George Carlin! He was the first comic that I ever actually searched out his performances on tape and TV. I saw him perform live and loved it. So, as you can imagine the idea of this book really appealed to me. Sadly it reads like a Wikipedia entry. The man was so funny but this book made me laugh once. It was so poorly paced and bland that is was depressing. Overall this is a travesty to the man’s legacy and the writer who I won’t even name should be ashamed.
In many ways, his life was about the history of comedy, and seen through the eyes of George Carlin, you get a sense of how real the comedians role is in our society. In many ways, to speak out about the absurdity of life is what it is to be comic. I think I'll be mining through the HBO specials seeing what I missed from this modern day philosopher, who finds truth in the most mundane.
Finished "7 Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin" by James Sullivan. This covered his career from very early until his death in 2008, including his military experience, his idol (Lenny Bruce), his various routines and how some of them evolved, his influence on censorship and law, his relationships and even his hairstyles. Best enjoyed with an open mind. After I finished it, I went on Netflix and watched about 4 hours of his routines.
The historical contexts given at each part of Carlin's life were really enlightening. I would have enjoyed more reflection from the author, but maybe that's just because that's all I was doing while I was reading. Also would have liked more chapters on the last 10 years of his life. That's the part I know the least about, except for Sally Wade's scrapbook rendition of their relationship.
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