The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History

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"Remarkably ambitious . . . an impressive tour de force."
—Washington Post Book World

For Alexander the Great, fame meant accomplishing what no mortal had ever accomplished before. For Julius Caesar, personal glory was indistinguishable from that of Rome. The early Christians devalued public recognition, believing that the only true audience was God. And Marilyn Monroe owed much of her fame to the fragility that led to self-destruction. These are only some of the dozens of figures that populate Leo Braudy's panoramic history of fame, a book that tells us as much about vast cultural changes as it does about the men and women who at different times captured their societies' regard.

Spanning thousands of years and fields ranging from politics to literature and mass media, The Frenzy of Renown explores the unfolding relationship between the famous and their audiences, between fame and the representations that make it possible. Hailed as a landmark at its original publication and now reissued with a new Afterword covering the last tumultuous decade, here is a major work that provides our celebrity-obsessed, post-historical society with a usable past.

"Expansive . . . Braudy excels at rocketing a general point into the air with the fuel of drama. "

Beginning with the Homeric epics and the exploits of Alexander the Great, Braudy traces the evolving definition of fame through the ages.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The 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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195051780
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/10/1987
  • Pages: 674
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Leo Braudy is Leo S. Bing Professor of Literature at the University of Southern California and the author of such books as Narrative Form in History, Jean Renoir, and The World in a Frame.

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Table of Contents

I The Urge to be Unique
Above It All: Lindbergh and Hemingway 19
The Longing of Alexander 29
II The Destiny of Rome
Public Men and the Fall of the Roman Republic 55
The Authority of Augustus 90
III The Emptiness of Public Fame
The Uneasy Truce: Authority and Authorship 115
Christianity and the Fame of the Spirit 150
IV The Intercession of Art
The Imagery of Invisible Power 193
The Intermediary and His Audience 219
Printing and Portraiture: The Dissemination of the Unique 265
V The Democratization of Fame
From Monarchs to Individualists 315
The Posture of Reticence and the Sanction of Neglect 390
Democratic Theater and the Natural Performer 450
Conclusion: The Dream of Acceptability
Afterword to the Vintage Edition: Fame Without History
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