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Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad Paperback – July 29, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 126 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The title of this fascinating study refers to the antiheroic male protagonists of some recent popular television series (Mad Men’s Don Draper, The Shield’s Vic Mackey, The Sopranos’ Tony Soprano), but it also, to a slightly lesser degree, refers to some of the men who made those shows—David Chase, for example, the demanding creator of The Sopranos, and David Simon, the ambitious creator of The Wire. The author’s premise, that around 1999 there came a third golden age of television (The Sopranos debuted in ’99), might not sit well with all readers, but the argument that a new kind of TV series started to flourish around that time is undeniably true. Can you imagine any earlier point in television history when Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, and Deadwood could have existed? Martin combines standard making-of stuff (behind-the-scenes production battles, stories about the stars, etc.) with in-depth profiles of the people who, in a very real sense, changed the modern face of television. Fans of the shows he discusses, and especially those interested in television history, should consider this a must-read. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookforum

Difficult Men is a vastly entertaining and insightful look at the creators of some of the most highly esteemed recent television series. The book is crammed with pungent anecdotes about, and quotes from, people who have collaborated with these "difficult men"--or at least tried to. Male egos may grow lush under adoring gaze of online fanboys and fangirls, but as Martin's vivid and idea-packed study makes plain, the best way to make sense of our culture's difficult men is to subject them to rigorous, if often admiring, scrutiny. --Ken Tucker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (July 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143125699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143125693
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nathan Webster TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I think this interesting, detailed book will be best enjoyed by those of a "certain age," who can recall the original creation of each step along the way. If you're in your mid-40s, you might very well have watched "Hill Street Blues," and realized, when Hill and Renko got shot, that it was something different, even if you weren't sure how or why.

Author Brett Martin answers that 'why' and 'how' for many of the current high-quality shows we take totally for granted. The 'showrunners' behind "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Mad Men," etc., are creative producers at the top of their game, but none of them walked into a studio and just started making shows; their personal timelines date back decades, with a surprising amount of collaboration between them. Each had to overcome obstacles and a lack of network faith.

Martin does not recap show plots and stories. Rather it walks the reader through the decisions, proposals, and occasional lucky breaks and coincidences that led to each show's genesis - FX's "The Shield" was greenlit just before 9/11 for example; another two weeks, and it's probably never made. So it's not about the shows, but the offices that created the shows - it's much more interesting than that might sound.

Each of these shows required a complete commitment from its creator - and a lot of breaks in-between. Anybody who ever thinks "oh, creative people are just lucky" is an idiot. They made their own 'luck' with a single-minded devotion and talent that 99 percent of people can't relate to, and Martin's biographical accounts fill in those blanks.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Difficult Men is well written and researched and I did enjoy it. While reading it, though, something began gnawing at me roughly 50 pages in. Difficult Men feels like two separate books fused into one, and the result is ultimately unsatisfying.

I'd wager that nearly 70 percent of the book is about The Sopranos, clearly the show that spawned what Martin calls "the creative revolution." No argument here. Matthew Weiner of Mad Men has a Sopranos' lineage. And Vince Gilligan has said that there would be no Walter White without Tony Soprano. Additional kudos go to David Simon's The Wire, also a groundbreaking show. Unfortunately, however, Martin gives culturally significant series like Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season, and others short shrift.

For some reason, Martin keeps bringing everything back to The Sopranos, and often its creator David Chase. Difficult Men spends far too much time on the show that spawned the Creative Revolution and not enough on the other shows of that revolution. Yes, The Sopranos was important. We get it. As I read the book I kept asking myself, Why not just write a book about The Sopranos and another, more balanced one on what Martin calls The Third Golden Age of Television? Maybe the publisher recommended that Martin add popular shows to the subtitle of the book for SEO purposes?

A few pet peeves: I lost count of the number of times that the author dropped words like auteur and tropes. Some of that seemed a bit gratuitous. And why Bryan Cranston is on the cover of this book is beyond me. This is mostly a book about The Sopranos and the impact it has had.
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Format: Hardcover
Primarily biographies of, insights into and amusing stories about those who created the shows - David Chase, David Simon, Matthew Weiner, Vince Gilligan. Well written and interesting if you want to learn about how some got a deal with HBO or who was a tyrant to their staff. Much less informative about the contents of the shows themselves. Interesting but only for junkies who want inside dope on these men who changed the landscape, rather than insight into the contents or style of the shows.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Difficult men

Brett Martin

Difficult men is a book about the new golden age of television, focusing on the male creators, writers and showrunners, and specifically concentrating on The Sopranos. There is mention to a fair degree about The Wire, and Mad Men, some discussion of Deadwood and The Shield, but other than that there is not much in depth mention of Breaking Bad, Damages, Dexter...

One of the only actors to be detailed in the book is James Gandolfini. His passing this month makes these aspects of the book particularly enthralling.

The book focuses most on the difficult men behind the shows rather than the difficult men the shows are about. So this is more about David Chase, David Simon, Ed Burns and Matthew Weiner than it is about Tony Soprano, Don Draper, or Mr. White.

I listen to Terry Gross on NPR. If I watch a series on DVD or Blu-ray I watch the extras and listen to the commentary. So there was not much in this book that was brand new for me. The author does not really go too far past obvious observations regarding creative types and their motivations. So this book is not going to spark any debates about the author's thesis regarding men's psyches because he does not really go there.

If you never pay attention to DVD extras or entertainment news, and you are fan of HBO shows in particular than this book will provide you with a lot of fascinating behind the scenes information.
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