The best books on American pop culture

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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

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

Maureen Callahan Why did I love 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.

By Editors of National Enquirer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The National Enquirer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For more than thirty years, The National Enquirer has put us on a first-name basis with stars, villains, beauties, cads, and killers bringing remarkable stories to life with breathtaking photos that pack an emotional punch and often break news in themselves. This is a sumptuous, mesmerizing selection of the most memorable photos from The National Enquirer history.


Book cover of Careless Love

Maureen Callahan Why did I love 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.”

By Peter Guralnick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Careless Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Last Train to Memphis, the first part of Guralnick's two-volume life of Elvis Presley, received unprecedented accolades. This concluding volume recounts the second half of Elvis's life in rich and previously unimagined detail, and confirms Guralnick's status as one of the great biographers of our time. Beginning with Presley's army service in Germany in 1958 and ending with his death in Memphis in 1977, Careless Love chronicles the unraveling of the dream that once shone so brightly, homing in on the complex playing-out of Elvis's relationship with his Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It's a breathtaking drama that places the…


Book cover of The Official Preppy Handbook

Maureen Callahan Why did I love 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.

By Lisa Birnbach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Official Preppy Handbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A facetious guide to emulating the look, speech patterns, thinking, and lifestyle of those who attend prep schools and are a part of high society


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

Maureen Callahan Why did I love 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.

By Julia Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The Hollywood memoir that tells all . . . Sex. Drugs. Greed. Why, it sounds just like a movie.”—The New York Times
 
Every memoir claims to bare it all, but Julia Phillips’s actually does. This is an addictive, gloves-off exposé from the producer of the classic films The Sting, Taxi Driver, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind—and the first woman ever to win an Academy Award for Best Picture—who made her name in Hollywood during the halcyon seventies and the yuppie-infested eighties and lived to tell the tale. Wickedly funny and surprisingly moving, You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This…


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

Maureen Callahan Why did I love 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.

By Tina Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vanity Fair Diaries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Indiscreet, brilliantly observed, frequently hilarious' Evening Standard
'Hang on - it's a wild ride' Meryl Streep

It's 1983. A young Englishwoman arrives in Manhattan on a mission. Summoned in the hope that she can save Conde Nast's troubled new flagship Vanity Fair, Tina Brown is plunged into the maelstrom of competitive New York media. She survives the politics and the intrigue by a simple stratagem: succeeding.

Here are the inside stories of the scoops and covers that sold millions: the Reagan kiss, the meltdown of Princess Diana's marriage to Prince Charles, the sensational Annie Leibovitz cover of a gloriously pregnant,…


You might also like...

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

Book cover of Unsettled

Laurie Woodford

New book alert!

What is my book about?

At the age of forty-nine, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and leaves her life in upstate New York to relocate to Seoul, South Korea. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English in Asia evolves into a nomadic adventure.

Laurie spoon-feeds orphans in Ethiopia, performs 108 bows at a Buddhist mountain temple, walks shelter dogs in Peru, milks goats in Fuerteventura, and gets lost in Mexico, all the while navigating dating at midlife.

After four years of traveling, Laurie’s return “home” becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, and then struggles to reconcile her need for freedom with her longing to feel settled.

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

What is this book about?

At the age of forty-nine, driven by an urgent restlessness, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and relocates to Asia. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English overseas, evolves into a nomadic adventure as Laurie works and volunteers in South Korea, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. After four years of traveling, Laurie's return "home" to the U.S. becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, who challenges her to reconcile her life of fierce independence with her longing to feel…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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

10,000+ 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 141 books about pop culture
Elvis Presley Explore 32 books about Elvis Presley
Making Movies Explore 32 books about making movies