From the history of CAA to Bruce Springsteen's memoir to a look inside the Disney Archives, here are this year's seven best books about Hollywood.
At the top of the pile, 2016 has been a very good year for Hollywood-related books. The year may have been pretty awful in so many other ways but the best entertainment books this year were really good. Several books on this list are not only among the year's best books but are likely to be remembered for years to come as the definitive word on a particular something. Another half dozen good books could easily have made the list, but the seven here are truly the tops.
Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists by James Andrew Miller (Custom House)
Despite a few quibbles in early reviews, Miller’s magisterial oral history of the pathbreaking talent agency is one of the two most important books about the business of entertainment to come out in 2016. In telling the story of CAA, Miller is really telling the story of Hollywood in the late 20th and early 21st century, from the rise of super powerful superstars (like Tom Cruise) and blockbusters to how the finances of the industry evolved. A must read for anyone who wants to work in Hollywood or just know how Hollywood works.
The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History by Chris Smith with an introduction by Jon Stewart (Grand Central Publishing)
The first important book to help us understand how we got to Donald Trump is also a crackling fun read. It feels like everyone ever involved in Stewart’s Daily Show run talked to Smith. The stories of how the show evolved, the history of the funniest bits (Slimming Down with Steve!), the controversies (Stewart's Crossfire appearance) and the office politics are fabulous, as is the portrait of Stewart as boss (a pretty good one actually). Taken together it is a fascinating portrait of how news and entertainment evolved, diverged and converged over the last two decades.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)
The Boss sets a new bar for celebrity memoirs with this thoughtful, elegiac, beautiful book. He takes you inside his life, revealing his hopes and dreams as well as his fears and insecurities and inside his music. It is also a fabulous snapshot of post-World War II American life, about the decline of cities and factories in the east and midwest and the alluring dream, always the dream, of the west. Springsteen fans will find themselves going back to the music and listening it with new appreciation and understanding. But even if you’ve never been a fan, especially if you’ve never been a fan, give this book a shot.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer (Gallery Books)
Schumer’s memoir manages to be both laugh-out-loud funny and moving. There’s the usual funny tales of growing up, first loves and the struggle to make it mixed with revealing stories about her father’s illness and the abusive relationships she was a part of.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (Spiegel & Grau)
Unlike Schumer, who essentially gives us the person we mostly thought we knew (albeit with more depth and nuance), Noah introduces himself anew with this fascinating account of his South African childhood, where as the son of a white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother he was literally “born a crime.” Noah’s boyhood traces South Africa’s move from Apartheid to a racially egalitarian (though still troubled) country and he tells this part of the story with verve and a good eye for detail. The book is also a bit of a love letter to his mother, who is a fascinating and complicated woman. The book made me add The Daily Show back to my regular viewing.
The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon (Simon & Schuster)
Weldon shrewdly uses Batman, possibly the single most-influential superhero ever — yea, Superman was the first, but Batman is the archetype for more — to tell the story of geek culture and how it came occupy a dominant place in today’s world. Plus, the book is filled with great stories of Batman’s evolution, his whizbang gadgets and the fans who love him. Weldon’s cultural history manages to be smart and fun at the same time.
The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies 1921-1968 by Daniel Kothenschulte with an introduction by John Lasseter (Taschen)
The first in a projected multi-volume deep dive into everything Disney looks at the studio’s animation golden age (and aftermath), from Disney’s first jobs in Kansas City at Laugh-0-Gram to his last movie, The Jungle Book. Every page is packed with rare preliminary sketches, script notes, finished artwork and behind-the-scenes photographs. And there are also wonderful essays by noted scholars and critics to complement the artwork. This is a must-have for animation buffs and those interested in Hollywood history.