“The New York Times’ John Leland offers an incisive, entertaining look at this peculiarly American cultural notion...”
Hipness is a quality that not even Bill Gates or Warren Buffett can buy. To probe the nature of this elusive asset, journalist John Leland mines disparate records of 19th-century literary bohemians, little-known jazz savants, and film noir vaults. This book is a hip history of hip and a treasure trove of cultural info.
Don't be misled by the glib title; Hip: The History is not a decade-late cash-in book on martini revivalism and what made Frank and Dino swing. Rather, it's a thoroughgoing, research-intensive analysis of that uniquely American anti-establishmentarian posture known as hip, undertaken by a fellow who's spent much of his career ruminating on the subject, John Leland, a reporter for The New York Times and a former editor in chief of Details. Leland has assigned himself a mighty task: to explain the history of hip from its 18th-century origins in America's West African-born slave population, where hip evolved as a sort of whitey-confounding slanguage (evidently, the word ''hip'' derives from the Wolof term ''hepi'' or ''hipi,'' meaning ''to see'' or ''to open one's eyes''), to today's epidemic of ubiqui-hip, of corporate-sponsored grooviness (iPods, Gap ads) and pan-cultural dreadlocks.
The New York Times
Leland's Hip: The History is an impressive achievement -- thorough, exhaustively researched and eventually a bit exhausting. He seems to know everything there is to know about hip. He's read all the books, listened to all the music, seen all the movies. He manages to lay it all out with a detached authority that's just a hair shy of the know-it-all smugness implied by the book's title.
The Washington Post
What is hip? Leland has researched contemporary answers to that question for Spin, Details and the New York Times, and now probes deeper for a rigorous historical analysis that goes beyond the usual hot spots of the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance, encompassing colonial plantations, animation studios, pulp magazine racks and the latest hipster hangouts. The story of hip is largely the story of American race relations, and Leland addresses the ways whites and blacks have interpreted and imitated one another from many angles, as assuredly perceptive when he analyzes Al Jolson's blackface persona as he is exploring the dynamic between bop jazz and Beat Generation writers. Refusing to either champion or condemn "the white boy who stole the blues," Leland presents readers with an accessible model of complex social forces. The breadth and sophistication of his argument is admirable, but it wouldn't be as convincing without his engaging tone, which shuns condescension to invite readers into a genial conversation-Leland even jokes about how the nature of hipness might date his book. Leland needn't worry: though hip will always be a matter of perception, few will be able to read this eclectic history without agreeing it's on to something. 49 b&w photos. Agent, Paul Bresnick. (Oct. 5) Forecast: With national radio interviews (including NPR) and author appearances, Leland's chronicle should reach all those who dig pop culture studies, whether they're fans of Miles Davis or the White Stripes. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Hip is often elusive, perpetually sought after, and forever reinventing itself. Is it crazy clothing, attitude, location, new music, rebellion? What is hip, how did it evolve, and just how deeply does it affect American culture? New York Times columnist and former Details editor in chief Leland provides some answers in this thoroughly researched history of hip's many facets its African American influences, countercultural movements, pivotal icons, and continually changing face up to hip-hop. Leland carefully examines hip's linguistic, historical, sociological, and cultural roots, dissecting the significance of hip in the diverse worlds of literature, gangsters, music, bohemia, cartoons, and technology and studying an eclectic group of figures that includes Walt Whitman, Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Kerouac, and Bugs Bunny. Although books on individual aspects of hip have appeared before, Leland may be the first to look at the big, complex picture. This absorbing analysis is highly recommended for academic and large public libraries. Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Forget diversity training and sociology lectures: here's a surefire way to excite teens about the forces at work in American history. Industrialization, Prohibition, immigration, civil rights, and class consciousness come alive when viewed through hip's lens, making it seem like one long, wild story whose new chapters build, riff, and expand on the old. This fast-paced volume is also a jumping-off point: whether explaining that "hip" comes from the Wolof word "hipi" ("to open one's eyes"), brought to America by West African slaves, or pointing out the resemblance between Bugs Bunny and the hard-boiled detectives of pulp fiction, Leland will lead YAs beyond Kerouac to "Original Gangstas" Thoreau and Whitman, the "thug vitality" of the 19th-century Bowery boys, and the over-the-top "bling" worn by Ma Rainey half a century before Lil' Kim showed up. Running throughout is a solid awareness that "hip" involves cultures borrowing, and often stealing, from one another. Unlike other observers of this phenomenon, however, Leland sees this less as a form of oppression and more as a form of play. While not always convincing, the argument is appealing, full of good will and good sense. Both a practical and a fun purchase, Hip may quickly become the most well-read book in your nonfiction collection.-Emily Lloyd, formerly at Rehoboth Beach Public Library, DE Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Comprehensive but overwrought account of how American-style coolness became the purported universal ideal. New York Times style reporter Leland takes on a quasi-academic and too-knowing voice in traveling through seemingly discrete and rarefied kingdoms of hipness. "There is no instruction manual for hipsters," he avers, "but there are archetypes of hip." He focuses on transformative cultural figures marginalized in their own time, mixing Melville, Whitman, Chandler, Bugs Bunny, raconteurs, criminals, Beats, jazzbos, druggies, rappers, and good-time girls into a percussive gumbo. In 15 long essay-chapters, he proposes understanding hip (derived from hepi, "to see" or hipi, "to open one's eyes") as a cultural process that over 150 years traveled from the fringe to America's mainstreamed consumer core. He sees certain nodes as particularly relevant, such as the urban postwar ferment that threw writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg against volatile musical personalities like Charlie Parker. Previous to the Beat explosion, "underground" subgenres like noir and bebop flirted with the mainstream, as did the Harlem Renaissance and Greenwich Village bohemianism; by the 1960s, Madison Avenue was happy to co-opt and repackage hip's signifiers in music and clothes. Leland identifies race as the great unacknowledged engine here, creating a more ambiguous narrative than mere "love and theft"; other chapters explore the hidden energies contributed to hip's genealogy by women, tricksters, criminals, and substance abusers. Although he grasps the process by which diverse cultural elements undergo synthesis-e.g., the connections among the war, the Beats, and all that came later-his prose ("The streets ofWilliamsburg in Brooklyn or Silver Lake in Los Angeles comprise a theme park in the key of hip") is more reminiscent of terminally unhip David Brooks than of edgier critic-provocateurs who've previously explored this territory, like Thomas Frank, Lester Bangs, or Nick Tosches. Leland's study may be revelatory to those under 25; it will seem familiar to people awake for the media's "alternative nation" and Gen-X deluge of the '90s. Codifies underground myths for both academe's cult-studs and the trucker-hat set. Agent: Paul Bresnick
“Hip: The History is the definitive work on the subject.”
“John Leland covers it all in his essential book, Hip: The History.”
“Hip: The History is the seminal work on the topic and a must read for all you hipsters!”
“John Leland combines diligent research with insight and wit.”
“What is hip? If you have to ask, ask John Leland.”