Review of ‘Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity’ by Greg Jenner

A fun, irreverent history book which attempts to define ‘celebrity’, with many examples of people from history – were they celebrities, or famous, or renowned, or notorious (they have different meanings)?

Book cover for Dead Famous, showing a painting of Sarah Siddons.

I dislike the word ‘celebrity’, which conjures up an image of pouting nobodies on reality television. Anyone who is vaguely famous is now a celebrity, it seems. This book is quite interesting because it manages to be very current in its language and cultural references, while leaning towards sociology in a vaguely academic way. In some respects the book will quickly seem out of date, like a celebrity who has dropped from public favour, while in others, mainly the historical content, it will remain valuable.

Some of the figures included in this book: Clara the Rhino, David Garrick, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Rita Hayworth, Lord Byron, W G Grace, Frederick Douglass, Sarah Bernhardt and Jenny Lind.

Generally I thought the book was a good, entertaining read, although a little repetitive and the writing style could get irritating. I feel that I have gained a lot of knowledge, despite it not feeling like a ‘proper’ history book.

This edition published in 2021 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Leave a Reply