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25 Books Every Pop Culture Nerd Needs To Read

Books for people who love to go ~behind the scenes.~

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1. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Updated and Expanded by David Thomson

While you may not agree with all of film critic David Thomson's opinions, you can't argue with his selection of iconic films and the folks who make them happen. This is the ultimate movie reference guide and pretty much a necessity for any movie buff.


5. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris

"The New Hollywood" movement was all about the director saying F U to studios and making the movies they wanted to make. This deep dive through the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1967 illustrates a turning point in moviemaking and America at large.


7. The Ultimate South Park and Philosophy: Respect My Philosophah! by Robert Arp

Any South Park fan could tell you the show is more than killing Kenny and making fun of people: It's actually meta AF. This book basically teaches you major theories in Western philosophy through the hilariousness of the show...which is awesome.


10. Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

How a show has managed to stay juicy, turbulent, and most importantly, relevant for over 40 years is certainly worth a read, no? No matter which cast is your fave, the escapades of each passing decade will keep you turning the pages.

11. Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1: 1970s-1981 by Ed Piskor

This graphic novel follows the pioneers of hip-hop through 1970s New York as they hone their craft and develop their identities as black artists. It's the perfect history lesson for any music fan, and the saga continues in Vol. 2 and Vol. 3.

12. Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music by Mark Baumgarten

While you may not have heard of it, rest assured you can thank this label for everything from the grunge scene to the riot grrrl movement. K Records' motto pretty much says it all: You don't need anyone's permission to make music.


13. Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen

This book is particularly handy if all your info about Pussy Riot was from news headlines and political pundits. This is a super-thoughtful and fair-minded presentation of the band's history and how they became internationally infamous.

15. The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun by Robert Greenfield

To say this guy had an ear for music is an understatement: He founded Atlantic Records and basically brought rock 'n' roll into the mainstream. Oh, and he had a hand in the careers of Bobby Darin, Eric Clapton, and Led Zeppelin, and tons of others. Not too shabby.


17. Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum

Talk about schadenfreude: This book is all about musicals from 1950–90 that were total flops. But Mendelbaum does more than just shit on them; he's genuinely interested in figuring out why they failed, and in doing so, provides a super-insightful critique of Broadway and audiences alike.

18. Fosse by Sam Wasson

Bob Fosse is still the only person to ever win an Oscar Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award in the same year, and remains a force to be reckoned with. Learn about the dude who brought you Chicago through the eyes of friends, lovers, enemies, and colleagues.


20. Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein by Julie Salamon

Wendy Wasserstein was a Broadway legend, Pulitzer Prize winner, and also a total sweetheart. But she hid heartbreaking personal tragedies, and this book explores how Wasserstein lived a performance as nuanced and thoughtful as her characters.

21. Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Pop Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson

If your parents have ever criticized your Netflix obsession, tell them to read this book. Johnson argues that our pop culture is far from dumbed down, but is actually getting more sophisticated, making us use our brains in new and interesting ways.

22. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman is a semi-neurotic pop-culture nerd who can find existential meaning in everything from Billy Joel to the Celtics/Lakers rivalry. He does a great (and funny) job of reminding us that pop culture is still culture, and thus a reflection on all of us.


23. Feminism and Pop Culture: Seal Studies by Andi Zeisler

If feminism and pop culture were in a Facebook relationship, they'd absolutely be labeled "It's Complicated." Written by the co-founder of Bitch Media, this book reviews the two influential and intertwining forces from the 1940s onward.

24. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Dating, amirite? Like almost everything else, it's only become more and more complicated as our technological and social options flourish. So comedian Ansari teamed up with a legit sociologist to try to figure out our new romantic world.

25. So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

With half our lives being lived online, it's become infinitely easier for all your mistakes and failures to be open to public judgment and mockery. Depressing stuff. But Ronson's exploration of the reactions to such public shaming reminds us that even in the anonymous online world, we're all still real people.