The best pop culture books 📚

Browse the best books on pop culture as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Official Preppy Handbook

The Official Preppy Handbook

By Lisa Birnbach

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…

From the list:

The best books on American pop culture

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Book cover of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media

By Susan J. Douglas

Why this book?

Where the Girls Are is about a particular generation of women growing up in post War America, and the impact popular media had on their lives, both for good and for bad. It weaves wonderfully smart, often funny, always engagingly written discussions of pop music, movies, and television shows with Douglas’s own experiences at the time. It’s unabashedly feminist—but it isn’t a speech or a political manifesto. It’s an exploration of the push-pull of growing up female at a transitional time, a time in which attitudes toward women were changing, unevenly, and how pop culture reflected the tensions of the…

From the list:

The best books about popular culture

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Book cover of The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

By Daniel J. Boorstin

Why this book?

Boorstin’s political perspective is conservative, but as a media critic he introduced one of the most significant concepts for understanding, not only our media-saturated culture in general, but the abuses of right-wing television, such as FOX. His concept of the ‘pseudo-event’ is one that I have found incredibly useful in teaching and thinking over the years. A pseudo-event is something that acquires its reality and power not because it is based on fact, but simply because the media has reported it, repeated it, exaggerated it, re-played it, made a mantra of it. Ring a bell? “Email Scandal”? “No Collusion, No…

From the list:

The best books about popular culture

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Book cover of "There Is a North": Fugitive Slaves, Political Crisis, and Cultural Transformation in the Coming of the Civil War

"There Is a North": Fugitive Slaves, Political Crisis, and Cultural Transformation in the Coming of the Civil War

By John L. Brooke

Why this book?

Southerners rarely spoke of "the South" until slavery began to be threatened in the 1840s; slavery made the South. The North was far more fragmented--until an anti-slavery culture took hold in the 1850s. Brooke is highly sensitive to the role of popular culture in forging that consensus--not just Uncle Tom's Cabin, the most influential novel in American history, but local theatricals and the poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier. Here was the original, unbridgeable division between red and blue states.

From the list:

The best books about the run-up to the American Civil War

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Book cover of Gender on Ice, Volume 10: American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions

Gender on Ice, Volume 10: American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions

By Lisa Bloom

Why this book?

This slim but explosively dramatic book makes everything you were ever told about the history of polar exploration seem like nothing more than random trivia. Lisa Bloom takes those stories you think you know and offers up the hidden realities of them in ways that explain the race, gender, and sexual politics of not just polar exploration but the idea of “modernity” itself as a crutch for justifying the “penetration” of people and spaces existing at the “ends of the earth.”
From the list:

The best books on the history of feminism and imperialism

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Book cover of Zero History

Zero History

By William Gibson

Why this book?

This novel represents a sharp turn for me. Until I snapped up Zero History in an airport bookstore many years ago, the science fiction I’d read seemed like dry, intellectual exercises. The characters didn’t have depth. They never made me laugh (or cry). But Zero History unleashed a passion in me for speculative fiction, and eventually, it turned my own writing in that direction as well. To this day, it’s one of my all-time favorite novels. While it’s the third book in a William Gibson trilogy, it is entirely complete on its own. There’s a pop culture, cool vibe about…
From the list:

The best novels that wonder about the future

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