Review: Dead Famous by Greg Jenner

Title: Dead Famous – An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen

Author: Greg Jenner

Pages: 400 Pages

Publisher: W&N

The Blurb

Celebrity, with its neon glow and selfie pout, strikes us as hypermodern. But the famous and infamous have been thrilling, titilating, and outraging us for much longer than we might realise. Whether it was the scandalous Lord Byron, whose poetry sent female fans into an erotic frenzy; or the cheetah-owning, coffin-sleeping, one-legged French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who launched a violent feud with her former best friend; or Edmund Kean, the dazzling Shakespearean actor whose monstrous ego and terrible alcoholism saw him nearly murdered by his own audience – the list of starts whose careers burned bright before the Age of Television is extensive and thrillingly varied.

Celebrities could be heroes or villains; warriors or murderers; brilliant talents, or fraudsters with a flair for fibbing; trendsetters, wilful provocateurs, or tragic victims marketed as freaks of nature. Some craved fame while others had it forced upon them. A few found fame as small children, some had to wait decades to get their break. But uniting them all is the shared origin point: since the early 1700s celebrity has been one of the most emphatic driving forces in popular culture; it is a lurid cousin to Ancient Greek ideas of glorious and notorious reputation, and its emergence helped to shape public attitudes to ethics, national identity, religious faith, wealth, sexuality, and gender roles.

In this ambitious history, that spans the Bronze Age to the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Greg Jenner assembles a vibrant cast of over 125 actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, freaks, demigods, ruffians, and more, in search of celebrity’s historical roots. He reveals why celebrity burst into life in the early eighteenth century, how it differs to ancient ideas of fame, the techniques through which it was acquired, how it was maintained, the effect it had on public tastes, and the psychological burden stardom could place on those in the glaring limelight. Dead Famous is a surprising, funny, and fascinating exploration of both a bygone age and how we came to inhabit our modern, fame obsessed society.

(Goodreads Blurb)

The Review

The world of celebrity is strange. It is like we choose random people and celebrate their arbitrary quality because society tells us to whether it be Kim Kardashian’s bottom or David Beckham’s left foot.

Dead Famous by Greg Jenner looks at how celebrity happened. He does an anthropological social study focusing on the roots of celebrity and how circumstance met opportunity to make people become revered and celebrated.

Dead Famous is a fascinating read and what I enjoyed most about it was the mix of people I knew and those who I had never heard of before. It was like a history lesson book. I learned so much from it.

Greg Jenner’s style is really likeable. I didn’t feel like I was having to wade through useless information, everything seemed relevant. It is the mixture of the person, why they are celebrated and what was happening culturally, socially and politically during their lifetime. He also peppers his narrative with personal insights and comments. Dead Famous is such an entertaining read. A joy to read.

Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity fro Bronze Age to Silver Screen by Greg Jenner is available now.

For more information regarding Greg Jenner (@greg_jenner) please visit

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