The best oral history books

Mark Yarm Author Of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge
By Mark Yarm

The Books I Picked & Why

Edie: American Girl

By Jean Stein

Edie: American Girl

Why 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.


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Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

By Legs McNeil, Gillian McCain

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

Why 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.


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

By James Andrew Miller, Tom Shales

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

Why 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.


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

By Studs Terkel

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

Why 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.


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

By Melissa Maerz

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

Why 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.


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