Ranking the Hollywood Oral History Books


Hollywood oral history books are getting cranked out fairly quickly right now relatively speaking. I like reading them because they are mostly easy to read and fascinating regardless of how good they are.

Future Updates: Twin Peaks, Top of the Rock

13. Game of Thrones: Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon

This book is absolutely humiliating. With much of it clearly written during the actual production of the show and so little time since then, this was essentially just a hype piece for the only-recently finished show. No sense of genuine reflection was on display, and everyone essentially only had glowing things to say about the show and everyone’s effort. So little time had passed that there was no even dirt to share! What the fuck was this!


12. The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s

While the seven years away from the finale offered a glimmer of hope that there would be more honest reflection in this one, the book really just seemed like a celebration of the series that Netflix viewership seems to have validated as being “elite.” It’s not quite as embarrassing as the GOT book, but the pages devoted to complaining about Miles McNutt’s reviews of the 8th season are definitely worse than anything in that book!


11. Saturday Night Live: Live from New York

Much like SNL itself, this book really gets progressively less interesting with each passing phase of the show! By the time you get to the 2010s, you are left wondering who is still reading and what joy they could possibly be getting out of it! You can never read enough SNL stories from the 70s though or look on at fascination with the strange periods of the 80s. So, this was not bad overall.


10. Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office

This oral history of The Office stands out for two reasons. 1.) It is essentially just edited transcripts from Brian Baumgartner’s podcasts where he interviews cast/crew from the show about their experiences making the show. 2.) Brian Baumgartner was a CAST MEMBER of the show. With the trend of these books taking off now, it is actually preferable that they look and feel like this compared to a journalist doing a soft job of covering the book. There is no pretense that any journalism is happening here. Instead, it’s just a well-edited story of a bunch of people who seem to genuinely like each other making a television show.


9. Clueless: As If!

Given that this books really pre-dates the recent rush of Hollywood Oral History books, it turned out to be a really strange film to get the treatment. The film is of course more than worthy in the culturally relevant sense. But there is essentially no conflict in the story! A smart person wrote a script. They shot a movie. Everyone got along. The movie came out. Critics liked it. Audiences liked it. It made money. People still like it today! The end! It is still a fun read though so if you like the movie (and you SHOULD LIKE THIS MOVIE) you should check it out.


8. The 30 Rock Book

Okay, partially cheating here. This book is not advertised as an Oral History, but it functions largely as one. The major difference in form here is that there is more editorializing from the author going on, and quotes from the cast and crew feel more in support of that. For a show like 30 Rock, that actually works really well as there probably could only be so many times you read, “We sought to push boundaries and satirize everyone. Hopefully that episode never gets taken down from Netflix” before you want to put your head through a wall. Mike Roe is actually presenting a great model for future Hollywood Oral History books to consider in order to prevent them from feeling lazy and like an advertisement paid for by the show. Most great television shows are complicated and have ups and downs, and it usually takes an outsider to properly contextualize it all and assess it.


7. Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers

It may seem strange to say this about a 995-page book, but they simply tried to cover too much ground in this book. Obviously, in broad strokes, the book captures A TON, and a lot of it is entertaining. But it really is a tale of two books. Part of the book is an exhaustive rundown of virtually every movie and show and doc and sports program HBO ever did. Part of the book is about the corporate palace intrigue. And there was just no way to do either of those two stories justice together. The book lives and dies by the parts of the book about the most interesting stars and shows. If they could have narrowed the focus to those somehow, they really had something here. Such as it is, it is instead quite mid for the genre.


6. ESPN: Those Guys Have All the Fun

Now, see, this one is fascinating. While there is definitely some aspects of ESPN’s story that seems like required reading and more like promoting ESPN, the editing of this book is just tremendous. The way some ESPN personalities are willing to just say some awful things (Mike Tirico immediately comes to mind) is mindblowing, and the author just lets it sit there for you to soak in. It was also just a fun read in general.


5. The Wire: All the Pieces Matter

Generally speaking, if the editor/author’s assessment of the show/film’s quality is equal with reality, then it’s mostly a safe bet that the book will be fun and worth reading. That’s what happens here. The Wire was really great! Not flawless! Not perfect politics! But pretty damn great television. And the story of how it came together and how it was made was interesting from beginning to end.


4. The Daily Show (The Book)

This one is really entertaining and interesting all the way through. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart ended just in time before it would have been eviscerated for its endgame politics (for more insight, read a recap of the recent Jon Stewart-directed movie). It did however accurately diagnose a core political problem in our country that Republicans are fucking bat-shit crazy and Democrats are useless cowards. The one real blight on this book is the total defense of the dumb rally thing in 2012. That really reflected poorly on the book as a whole.


3. The Sopranos: Woke Up This Morning

Much like the Brian Baumgartner oral history book on The Office, the first oral history book on The Sopranos is edited transcripts of a podcast made by cast members of the show having a great time. This is clearly and officially a trend. Cast members of famous television shows have been cashing in by making podcasts for a few years. Now, many of these podcasts are being edited into oral history books. I will read every single one of them.  Keep doing them. It’s not a criticism. That is what libraries are for.

Anyway, this one is very good for two reasons. 1.) The easiest way for an Oral History book to be good is if the subject is good! It is frankly just very interesting to listen to the experience of making great art! 2.) The love between the cast and crew members is frankly just so comforting and welcoming to read. You cannot help but feel good while you are reading about their experiences, opinions, and insight into the great artistic accomplishment of the 21st Century. Imperioli and Schirripa’s love for each other and the work they did here truly made this just a joyous read from beginning to end.


2. Mad Max: Fury Road: Blood, Sweat & Chrome

As has been discussed ad nauseam on this page, the easiest way to have a great Hollywood Oral History book is for the subject of said book to be great already. Easy, when it comes to one of the greatest films every, Fury Road. The next thing you need to get it to that next level is some actual conflict.

And holy shit.

Whatever your understanding of the difficulties of making Fury Road are at the present moment, you truly MUST read what George Miller had to do and what he and everyone else went through to get this fucker made. Kyle Buchanan does just a remarkable job of capturing the feeling of making this movie as the pain from everyone just radiates off everyone’s words, page after page. It is an instant essential book about Hollywood in general.


1. Dazed & Confused: Alright, Alright, Alright

This book will be the gold standard for this particular genre for the foreseeable future. Enough time had passed for everyone to truly just let the shit to fly without fear of repercussions, and then it turns out it’s more fun to read a book where people have something to say about a piece of art they made that in fact had something to say! Who would have thought??

The book is also terribly tragic in a key way that gives it so much additional heft. Dazed and Confused was in so many ways a criticism of nostalgia culture (or at the very least poking fun at it). Then the film ended up causing a massive wave of nostalgia unintentionally. And then all these actors in it almost 30 years later are all talking about how it was clearly the best time of their professional lives and how sad they are about it in some ways. The melancholy hits you right in the gut.


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