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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Leo Braudy's "The Frenzy of Renown" was originally published in 1986, before the popcultural landscape became littered with In Style, E!, and other media outlets devoting themselves to the lives of the well known. Braudy's sharp analysis of the evolution of the public eye—from Alexander the Great, who, Braudy argues, was the first famous person, to 20th-century figures such as Charles Lindbergh and Ernest Hemingway—traces the development of fame throughout history. He details how fame, a status once reserved for those who created historical niches for themselves, is now bestowed upon public figures who are simply well-known for their well-knownness, as Daniel Boorstin described the phenomenon in his 1960s book "The Image".
The dawning of the mass media, the multiplying of outlets for the famous to be seen, and the advent of television, which brings the well known into homes, have resulted in two developments. Stereotypes of celebrity—the starlet, the war hero, the politician—have increased, because fame and the machines behind it have increased. At the same time, more people want to become famous, and many do that by affixing themselves to already existing stars.
In an afterward written in the wake of the O. J. Simpson trial, Braudy reflects on the growing self-consciousness of those who are in the public eye. At the same time, however, he notes that all media, from The New York Times on down, have become more attuned to the ways of the well known, featuring, for example, behind-the-scenes movie previews posing as news. While Braudy's analysis of fame isnow more than ten years old, his conclusions remain insightful for any current consumer of the increasingly glory-obsessed media.—Maura Johnston