The best oral history books about art, music, TV, and movies

Who am I?

I am currently the features editor at Input, a website about tech and culture. Earlier in my career, I worked at the now-defunct music magazine Blender, for which I wrote an oral history of Sub Pop, the Seattle label that put out early records by the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. That article was the basis of my book for Everybody Loves Our Town. I’m also a widely published freelancer, with pieces in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Wired, WSJ. Magazine, Rolling Stone, and many other outlets.


I wrote...

Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge

By Mark Yarm,

Book cover of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge

What is my book about?

Everybody Loves Our Town tells the whole story of grunge music: from the founding of the Seattle scene’s seminal bands to the worldwide success of grunge’s big four (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains); from the rise of the cash-poor, hype-rich indie label Sub Pop to the major-label feeding frenzy that overtook the Pacific Northwest; from the simple joys of making noise at basement parties and tiny rock clubs to the tragic, lonely deaths of superstars Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley.

Drawn from more than 250 new interviews, Everybody Loves Our Town is at once a moving, funny, lurid, and hugely insightful portrait of an extraordinary musical era. Time magazine named it one of the best books of the year.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Edie: American Girl

Mark Yarm Why did I love this book?

I read this biography of Edie Sedgwick, the late model, actress, and Warhol Superstar, when I was starting work on my own book and was just dazzled by how revealing and well-structured it is. Edie captures the ’60s It Girl’s life in stark detail from her aristocratic but incredibly dysfunctional childhood all the way to her 1971 death, of a drug overdose, at the age of 28. It’s gripping, often sordid stuff, and the true masterpiece of the oral history form.

By Jean Stein,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Edie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant and unique biography of Andy Warhol's tragic muse, the 60s icon Edie Sedgwick

'Exceptionally seductive... You can't put it down' LA Times

Outrageous, vulnerable and strikingly beautiful - in the 1960s Edie Sedgwick became both an emblem of, and a memorial to, the doomed world spawned by Andy Warhol.

Born into a wealthy New England Edie's childhood was dominated by a brutal but glamourous father. Fleeing to New York, she became an instant celebrity, known to everyone in the literary, artistic and fashionable worlds. She was Warhol's twin soul, his creature, the superstar of his films and, finally,…


Book cover of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

Mark Yarm Why did I love this book?

Anyone who’s written an oral history about music, like I have, owes a great deal to McNeil and McCain’s all-time classic about the American punk rock scene (featuring the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, the Stooges, the MC5, Television, Blondie, the Ramones, and many more). If you’re looking for an analysis of the music itself, go elsewhere; if you want to read about Iggy Pop’s prodigious penis and where it’s been, do pick this up. Please Kill Me is salacious in the best possible way.

By Legs McNeil, Gillian McCain,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Please Kill Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the true story of a misunderstood culture phenomenon, one embracing Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Patti Smith, The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls, The Clash and The Damned. It is a story of sex, drugs and rock and roll, documenting a time of glorious self-destruction and perverse innocence - punk was possibly the last time so many people will have had so much fun killing themselves. Legs McNeil, founder of "Punk" magazine has interviewed those who were members of the punk scene, from the brightest stars to the most observant groupies.


Book cover of Live from New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests

Mark Yarm Why did I love this book?

This is the definitive look at an American comedy institution (yes, we know it kinda sucks now) and includes input from almost all the show’s biggest names. The book features the requisite amount of sex, drugs, and rock and roll — plus fisticuffs and lots and lots of backbiting — but it also has some surprisingly tender moments, like Bill Murray’s recollection of the last time he saw his castmate, Gilda Radner, before her death.

By James Andrew Miller, Tom Shales,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Live from New York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When first published to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, LIVE FROM NEW YORK was immediately proclaimed the best book ever produced on the landmark and legendary late-night show. In their own words, unfiltered and uncensored, a dazzling galaxy of trail-blazing talents recalled three turbulent decades of on-camera antics and off-camera escapades. Now a fourth decade has passed---and bestselling authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales have returned to Studio 8H. Over more than 100 pages of new material, they raucously and revealingly take the SNL story up to the present, adding a constellation of iconic new stars,…


Book cover of Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do

Mark Yarm Why did I love this book?

You can’t talk about the art of oral history without paying tribute to Terkel, the late writer, historian, and broadcaster. He won a Pulitzer Prize for 1984’s "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II, but my pick is 1974’s Working, in which people from all walks of life from a gravedigger to a prominent actor (Rip Torn) — share the details of how they make a living. It’s a wonderful time capsule of a book.

By Studs Terkel,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Working as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Perhaps Studs Terkel's best-known book, Working is a compelling, fascinating look at jobs and the people who do them. Consisting of over one hundred interviews conducted with everyone from gravediggers to studio heads, this book provides a timeless snapshot of people's feelings about their working lives, as well as a relevant and lasting look at how work fits into American life.



Book cover of Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused

Mark Yarm Why did I love this book?

Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater’s plot-light, pot-heavy 1993 film about Texas teens hanging out on the last day of school in 1976, is perhaps my favorite movie ever, so I was already inclined to love this oral history about the film’s creation and legacy. Maerz expertly weaves the voices of almost everyone involved in the project from breakout star Matthew McConaughey to members of the crew — to create a highly entertaining, super-compelling look at a stoner cinema classic.

By Melissa Maerz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Melissa Maerz's brilliant oral history is the definitive account of a cult-classic movie that took a slow ride into the Seventies and defined the Nineties." -Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

The definitive oral history of the cult classic Dazed and Confused, featuring behind-the-scenes stories from the cast, crew, and Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater.

Dazed and Confused not only heralded the arrival of filmmaker Richard Linklater, it introduced a cast of unknowns who would become the next generation of movie stars. Embraced as a cultural touchstone, the 1993 film would also make Matthew McConaughey's famous phrase-alright, alright, alright-ubiquitous. But it started with…


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Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.

Lucy…


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