The best books on American pop culture

Maureen Callahan Author Of American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century
By Maureen Callahan

Who am I?

Maureen Callahan is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning investigative journalist, columnist, and commentator. She has covered everything from pop culture to politics. Her writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, New York, Spin, and the New York Post, where she is Critic-at-Large. She lives in New York. For Shepherd, Callahan has selected her favorite books about American pop culture, which is currently dominated by her favorite subgenre, true crime.


I wrote...

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

By Maureen Callahan,

Book cover of American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

What is my book about?

Ted Bundy. John Wayne Gacy. Jeffrey Dahmer. The names of notorious serial killers are usually well-known; they echo in the news and in public consciousness. But most people have never heard of Israel Keyes, one of the most ambitious and terrifying serial killers in modern history. The FBI considered his behavior unprecedented. Described by a prosecutor as a force of pure evil, Keyes was a predator who struck all over the United States. He buried kill kits--cash, weapons, and body-disposal tools--in remote locations across the country. Over the course of fourteen years, Keyes would fly to a city, rent a car, and drive thousands of miles in order to use his kits. He would break into a stranger's house, abduct his victims in broad daylight, and kill and dispose of them in mere hours. And then he would return home to Alaska, resuming life as a quiet, reliable construction worker devoted to his only daughter.

The books I picked & why

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The National Enquirer: Thirty Years of Unforgettable Images

By Editors of National Enquirer,

Book cover of The National Enquirer: Thirty Years of Unforgettable Images

Why this book?

As a child, I loved my grandmother’s visits because she would bring all the tabloids I wasn’t allowed to read — and none was better than The National Enquirer. No other outlet reveled so gleefully in scandal: Hollywood stars, politicians, huckster reverends — all were equal targets, and the Enquirer exposed them the way law enforcement nails suspects: Photographic evidence. Can’t lie your way out of a photo. So here’s a ruddy, paunchy, engaged-to-be-married Sen. Ted Kennedy with his 27-year-old paramour, a Miss Alabama runner-up; married presidential candidate Gary Hart, knocked out of the race after daring the media to catch him cheating — which the Enquirer did, running an exclusive picture of mistress Donna Rice sitting on his lap, Hart incredibly wearing a T-shirt reading Monkey Business; and an unprecedented image that changed tabloid journalism and resulted in the Enquirer’s best-selling issue: Elvis Presley in his coffin at Graceland.


Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley

By Peter Guralnick,

Book cover of Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley

Why this book?

Speaking of Elvis, this biography, the second of two parts, is among the greatest of the late 20th century. We begin with Elvis entering the U.S. Army in 1958 and follow this increasingly lost soul through the years, his fame metastasizing into something unrivaled, incredible, enviable and wholly malignant. Guralnick captures the singular loneliness Elvis came to suffer, the slow suicide that was his Las Vegas residency, the exploitations of his manager, Col. Tom Parker, and a death so humiliating it finally made Elvis what he had longed to be for decades: Profoundly, squalidly human. None other than Bob Dylan called this Presley biography the one that “cancels out all others.”


The Official Preppy Handbook

By Lisa Birnbach,

Book cover of The Official Preppy Handbook

Why this book?

I find WASP culture absurd and fascinating. I love that rich people, really rich people, have a fixation with stickers, slapping abbreviations for Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket or East Hampton on their luxury vehicles even though said luxury vehicles, parked in said locales, really should say it all. Such is the taxonomy writ large in Lisa Birnbach’s seminal Preppy Handbook, which explores other WASP signifiers such as “the politics of monogramming,” the elevation of old clothes over new, and what your choice of private schools, charities and vacation spots says about you. Pairs well with Take Ivy, a cult photography book by the Japanese photographer T. Hayashida, who spent the early-to-mid 1960s photographing American preps on college campuses — with prep soon becoming the rage in the Japan’s hipster Ginza district.


You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again

By Julia Phillips,

Book cover of You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again

Why this book?

The New York Times called this memoir “The Hollywood Chainsaw Massacre!” and it still stands as one of the best. Phillips, who died New Year’s Day 2002, was a self-described “nice Jewish girl from Great Neck,” Long Island who loved the movies, movie stars — and books. She was sharp, unsparing, and became the first female producer to win an Oscar for Best Picture. The closest comp title, I think, is The Kid Stays In The Picture by the late Robert Evans, but Phillips does him better in eviscerating no one so much as herself. And this is someone who describes Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood as “very sweet, but . . . smells terrible,” before asking, “Why don’t the English like to bathe?” An observation that could get one canceled today.


The Vanity Fair Diaries: Power, Wealth, Celebrity, and Dreams: My Years at the Magazine That Defined a Decade

By Tina Brown,

Book cover of The Vanity Fair Diaries: Power, Wealth, Celebrity, and Dreams: My Years at the Magazine That Defined a Decade

Why this book?

Londoner Tina Brown alights in New York City and falls fast and hard for power-playing, the machinations of billionaires and politicos, the trappings of glamour and wealth and the city itself, whose rococo sensibility she brings to Vanity Fair, a magazine she rescues from irrelevance and turns into a monthly-must read. Brown generated national headlines with her high-low sensibility and indelible cover images (a naked and pregnant Demi Moore scandalized middle America, much to Brown’s delight). She also writes about her guilt as a working mother, the thrill of matching the right journalist to the right story, and her trepidation in fighting for the salary she knew she deserved. A witty and colorful document of the last moment magazines really mattered.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pop culture, Elvis Presley, and making movies?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about pop culture, Elvis Presley, and making movies.

Pop Culture Explore 82 books about pop culture
Elvis Presley Explore 14 books about Elvis Presley
Making Movies Explore 14 books about making movies

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