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Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen

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3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,224 ratings  ·  277 reviews
Celebrity, with its neon glow and selfie pout, strikes us as hypermodern. But the famous and infamous have been thrilling, titillating, and outraging us for much longer than we might realise. Whether it was the scandalous Lord Byron, whose poetry sent female fans into an erotic frenzy; or the cheetah-owning, coffin-sleeping, one-legged French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who l ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published August 19th 2021 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published March 19th 2020)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  2,224 ratings  ·  277 reviews


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Ruby Granger
Apr 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
I absolutely LOVED this. As with his A Million Years in a Day, Jenner offers an accessible, funny and well-researched book. I loved the niche little details and super-specific examples (e.g. Nell Gwynn, who I'd never heard of!) -- and how these were compared to better-known celebrities who all of us know (Byron, Wilde, Dickens, Bowie etc.).
The book wasn't chronological which I also really liked. It means that the book can explore broader themes, as opposed to just providing an overview.
One thi
...more
Emma
Entertaining as ever from Greg Jenner, but evaluative and educational too. Review to come.
Sara Marsden
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
History: tick
Puns: tick
References Lord Byron and Nell Gwyn: tick (okay this is more of a niche thing, I just enjoy reading about them)
Facts that you will definitely be telling everyone: tick (Gorbachev was in a Pizza Hut advert, please YouTube it)

This book had a 99% chance success rate with me before I even got to rip open the box it came in, maybe that’s unfair to the book but rest assured I was 100% right. Jenner has such a joyful way with words. He is witty, hugely intelligent, an excellent w
...more
Tessa Buckley
Jun 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
I started this book with high expectations, having listened to the author talking about it at the Hay Festival online. I like historical biographies, and was looking forward to learning more about those people who I had previously been unaware of. However, I found it disconcerting that, instead of a potted biography of each famous character, there would be multiple references to each person throughout the book to illustrate different points about the nature of celebrity. This, added to the breat ...more
Siria
Mar 22, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen, despite its subtitle, focuses mostly on the period between the early 18th century and the 1950s (and within that, largely people from the UK and US). Greg Jenner argues that celebrity as we think of it today first emerges in the early decades of the eighteenth century, enabled by various technological and societal factors, and that it's distinguished from fame or renown by its focus on the personality/private life ...more
Kexx
Jun 30, 2020 rated it did not like it
Ok, OK, I heard him speak about this and thought "sounds a hoot." It wasn't. It boasts 125 celebrities- so each one gets less than 3 pages and as there is 5 chit-chat words to one factional word it neither satisfied nor entertained. ...more
N
I started out really, really enjoying Dead Famous and then ended up DNF'ing it. Let's unpick that transition.

Greg Jenner makes for a fun narrator, both in book and audio form. I would 100% go to the pub and chat about history with Greg Jenner. Dead Famous is also extremely accessible: it will probably be picked up by a lot of people who've never read any history books before. And hey, maybe it will serve as a gateway into other, better history books? Let's hope so.

The problem is that it's very,
...more
Kathrin Shawcross
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a really fun history book, sure to please readers of all types. Greg Jenner has the charismatic quality of a really dear freind telling an incredibly entertaining story about a subject you know they're reliable on.

It's a book dripping with wit. Even the most straightforward sentences have an air of humor about them, as if we're just caught up in the merriment of reading Jenner's various anecdotes and tidbits.

It's a book fit to burst with delightful information. Very enjoyable, definate
...more
Marguerite Kaye
Jul 23, 2022 rated it really liked it
Greg Jenner is the man behind Horrible Histories and the fabulous podcast, You're Dead to Me, and this book reflects his dark, subversive take on history too. It's very, very funny as you'd expect from him, he's the master of the pithy vignette. But it's also extremely erudite and incredibly well-researched, combining 'straight' history with quite a range of sociological interpretations of 'celebrity'. What is it, how do we perceive it, when did it start, what's the difference between celebrity ...more
Nick Davies
Apr 17, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2022
Though I have a lot of respect for the author in trying to address a slightly difficult to pin down subject, and as much as I have to appreciate the level of research which must've been done, I think I'd give this three and a half out of five because of the problems I had with the execution.

Jenner aims to define celebrity (and delineate it from fame, acclaim, renown) and discuss its origins, its different types, and explore the phenomenon. Though the latter two of these are explored in a great d
...more
Cakes
Aug 21, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did really enjoy this book, it was interesting and humorous, and taught me a lot about celebrity. However, it took me so goddamn long. I wouldn't pick it up for days, and when I did my mind wandered. Obviously, history books take me way longer to read than my normal YA, fantasy or sci-fi, there's a lot of new information to take in, that's the whole point. It is definitely worth a read, I did enjoy it when I could concentrate, although sometimes I lost the point he was trying to make, probably ...more
Jo
This book explores the meaning of celebrity and fame and all the other connotations which have become somewhat mixed in our times. Using examples from the last 300 years or so, Jenner shows how celebrity culture and fandoms are nothing new. It's informative but also entertaining in its approach and makes for a fascinating read. ...more
Freya Gordon
Sep 25, 2021 rated it did not like it
This was muddled, jumping from celebrity to celebrity, time period to time period so it was hard to keep track of. The author was far too wrapped up in his own cleverness with every second line being a weak joke and most of the footnotes being the same nonsense. He put most of a chapter into defining the term celebrity but still didn't come up with a workable definition - instead his definition seems to rely on existence of printed media (why?) and capitalism (why?) which was very limiting. So i ...more
Jenia
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not super into celebrity culture in general, but this was just a fun (mostly light hearted) romp through what fame and celebrity is and various past celebrities. I.. probably would have gotten more out of it if I had paid attention a lot more closely. But as it was, it's just a good thing to relax with during the stressful year of 2020 :) The book is read by the author and he does a great job. ...more
Irina Kermong
Jan 02, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
3.5 stars.

Fun read, if a little repetitive at times and some analysis was maybe a little too surface-level at times? I understand the author was trying to make them as simple as possible and he did provide a whole lot of books and articles of further reading. The sources provided are very exhaustive though and there are various topics presented in the book I might check out eventually.
Pooja Peravali
Jun 10, 2022 rated it really liked it
Intellectual and entertaining, this book discusses the origins and meaning of celebrity through the centuries, introducing us to various aspects of celebrity as well as different kinds of celebrity.
Eva Müller
I might have read this book wrong. Each chapter looks at different aspects of celebrity/celebrity culture (money, attitudes to celebrity bodies, fandom...) and then tells a few stories that fit the theme. And I picked the book up, read a few stories, put it down for a while and read something different, and then came back. But none of those aspects exist in a vacuum. No celebrity has only money but no fandom. At least some parts of the fandom will always comment on the body of 'their' celeb. And ...more
Bookwormandtheatremouse
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book - you will read and learn - and be eager to learn even more! The writing is engaging with humour throughout - and there is a whole tempting reading list at the end too. Just wonderful!
Jacqueline Williams
Jun 01, 2020 rated it liked it
The research that must have gone into this book is amazing. Each sentence is loaded with facts. With so much to take in, at times it felt more like a dissertation then a book. I enjoyed the historic strange celebrity snippets.
Slavomíra Nemčíková
Jan 18, 2022 rated it really liked it
if you like greg jenner, the podcast host, the pop historian, the witty nerd - you'll like this book.
greg takes his role as the pop historian laureate very seriously (although this is a book about celebrity prior to 1940s, he quotes lorde among others).
he makes his subject matter accessible, entertaining and enlightening without taking away from its academic accuracy. his research is meticulous, unbiased and you can tell he's done a lot of it in the 4 yours it'd taken him to finish the book.

tw
...more
Darren
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Greg’s 2nd book. Having loved the first I have been keenly awaiting this book since Greg first mentioned he was writing it on Twitter, about 4 years ago.
Although I mainly read novels, I do read history books and what I like about both of Greg’s books is that they are more easily readable. People who know him from his work on Horrible Histories won’t be surprised that he makes history for adults as enjoyable as he helped make history for children.
This book looks at the history of celebrity, cons
...more
Sophie Nixon
Mar 09, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5 Stars
Having studied celebrity culture as part of my degree, reading all about historical celebrity had me really rather excited. I thoroughly enjoyed how broad this book was with regard to the celebrities it covered - you really get a bit of everything. At times it felt, as such, incredibly dense but it was an easy read which I give full credit to Jenner’s witty style of writing and the wonderful sense of humour he has when he’s trying to compare the first celebrities to their modern counter
...more
Alison
Jan 27, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
I’m very fussy about non fiction because without the grab of a storyline I tend to be easily distracted, but as you can guess by the timeframe I read this in it wasn’t the case for this book.
In the age where celebrity and fame and microcelebrity all blur, a deep dive into the history of celebrity and fame really added a new perspective. The best thing about this book is how obviously well researched it is, I was not surprised at all when in the acknowledgments the author mentions having read ov
...more
Caroline
Jul 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book was well- written, interesting and amusing. However, my expectations were obviously at odd with the actual material! I thought it would be a book of mini biographies in chronological order, but what I got was a book more about the theory of celebrity - image, fame, self- promotion etc, with historical anecdotes spotted throughout and individuals referred to to highlight a point.

This is obviously more to do with my expectations, but it did dull my enjoyment of it.
Jenny
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book straddles the line of academic and popular audiences beautifully. It is well researched AND easy to read, which is rather a difficult balance to achieve. The last chapter was especially thought-provoking and sent me back to some of my grad school research. This book is fun and informative, and the Acknowledgments at the end are beautiful. Highly recommend if you are looking to learn without being put to sleep.
Rine
Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was soo good. Im not that big into celebrity culture but for someone to break down the history and explore it as a concept is so intriguing. It's also a massive research piece and less about opinions on things and I think the author did such a good job presenting different perspectives as well as giving him own and recognising what is objectively morally wrong and what is up to the perspective on an individuals opinion.

I also loved consuming this as an audiobook because it's narrated by the
...more
Anna
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book is an enjoyable and informative tour through celebrity. Greg Jenner writes in an conversational tone which makes it easy to read. I definitely found it more interesting to read about celebrities I already knew about, which was interesting. The acknowledgements at the end made the book worth reading to be honest, it was so nice!

Andrew
Dec 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
RTC. I have the same feelings as I did while listening to Toksvig's Almanac 2021.

I really liked listening to this and really enjoyed Greg's voice, but might have been better if I had the book as names came up that I wanted to know more about and yet, I couldn't as wasn't sure how to spell them. But this was really fascinating and insightful listening!
...more
Lorenza
Apr 22, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
But it's important to stress that, though there are obvious differences between the adored and hated - the Grace Darlings and the Mrs Rudds, the George Washingtons and Jack the Rippers - ultimately both heroes and villains were equally shoveled into the steam furnace, to keep society chugging ever forward. It turns out that celebrity and notoriety burn at the same temperature. ...more
Donna Holland
Aug 10, 2022 rated it liked it
An interesting read about the history of and what constitutes a ‘celebrity.’ Some of it I found repetitive and the same characters ; Kean ,Garrick,Stein kept being mentioned. Overall,some good stories but a generous 3 stars is all I could give . Still love his ‘You’re dead to me ‘ podcasts and he is v self deprecating so a good humorous historian .
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Goodreads Librari...: ISBN 978-0-297-86980-1: Hardcover has pages 2 9 Apr 20, 2020 01:41PM  

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Greg Jenner (FRHistS) is a British public historian, broadcaster, and author noted for using humour and pop culture to communicate the complexities of the past. He is the host of the chart-topping BBC comedy podcast YOU'RE DEAD TO ME

Greg is the author of three books:
- ASK A HISTORIAN: 50 SURPRISING ANSWERS TO THINGS YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW (2021)

- DEAD FAMOUS: AN UNEXPECTED HISTORY OF CELEBRITY
...more

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“Lincoln was sent a letter by an eleven-year-old girl called Grace Bedell, in which she’d dissed his weird face and suggested he grow some whiskers if he wanted people’s votes. Lincoln did as he was told, and met her in her hometown a few months later, whispering: ‘Gracie, look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.’ It’s extraordinary that his iconic look was the result of a hilariously blunt child stylist.* However, though news of Lincoln’s new beard quickly spread, he didn’t immediately pose for an updated portrait, so newspaper artists were initially forced to improvise what they thought his bearded face looked like, making him a sort of e-fit president better suited to a ‘Wanted!’ poster.40” 0 likes
“All of these other people threw themselves into the challenges, yet we don’t remember their names. The razzle-dazzle process that transforms nobodies into exemplary heroes is a curious one because sometimes it celebrates valour while simultaneously ignoring it in others. None of these forgotten people were any less altruistic than the eventual superstars bathed in limelight, but it was only Darling, Nightingale and Seacole who emitted the right sort of narrative charisma. The media found them intrinsically fascinating, and so only they were forged into public heroes, while their comrades in risk slunk back into anonymity.” 0 likes
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