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7 Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin Hardcover – June 8, 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A recipient of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, stand-up comedian Carlin (1937–2008) wrote three bestselling humor books and looked back over his five-decade career in his recent memoir, Last Words. Now music journalist and culture critic Sullivan, a contributor to Rolling Stone and the San Francisco Chronicle, offers an overview, starting with the young Carlin in 1950s New York. The Air Force sent him off to Louisiana, where he began as a Shreveport radio personality. As a DJ in Fort Worth, Tex., he polished a comedy act with Jack Burns, and the two left for the West Coast, performing together for two years before they split in 1962. Going solo, Carlin's taboo topics and subversive attitude took center stage. In this linear summary of Carlin's career, Sullivan dissects the comedian's classic iconoclastic routines, probes his working methods and successfully captures his rocketlike ascent to fame from night clubs and the 1960s comedic cauldron of Greenwich Village to television acclaim, controversy, and creative conflicts. However, those who want to experience a full explosion of the cynical and caustic Carlin blasting off minus the heat shields should instead seek out the finely tuned and wit-saturated Last Words. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


La Crosse Tribune, 1/3/2010
“A critical biography, this is an insightful examination of Carlin’s body of work as it pertained to its cultural times and the man who created it.”

Library Journal, 3/1/10
“[A] well-written and thorough biography…A celebration of the life of George Carlin and how his comedy remade stand-up, this is a great companion to Carlin’s recently published autobiography, Last Words. Highly recommended for readers interested in performing arts, George Carlin, comedy, and celebrity biographies.”

Kirkus Reviews, 3/15/10
“The author meticulously chronicles Carlin’s career, which intersected with many formative cultural trends of the ’50s and ’60s…Sullivan ably captures a sense of the entertainment industry at the time—glamorously competitive and fiercely insular…The author also dutifully covers Carlin’s personal life…This is an apt, detailed memorial to a groundbreaking performer.”

Booklist, 4/1/10
“Sullivan isn’t interested in padding out his book with stand-up material. His focus is on exploring the man himself, with a sharp critical eye and a good feeling for the sociohistorical context of Carlin’s comedy. An excellent account of the life and work of an important and greatly missed artist.”

Publishers Weekly, 3/29/10
“In this linear summary of Carlin's career, Sullivan dissects the comedian's classic iconoclastic routines, probes his working methods and successfully captures his rocketlike ascent to fame from night clubs and the 1960s comedic cauldron of Greenwich Village to television acclaim, controversy, and creative conflicts.”

Kirkus Reviews, 4/15/10
“Although volumes have been written about his contemporaries—his predecessor and mentor Lenny Bruce before him and his contemporary Richard Pryor, to name but a few—relatively little analysis has been done about the late, great George Carlin’s mark on the 20th century. In his new book, journalist James Sullivan delves deep into the seven-decade history of one of America’s most daring comics.”

Sacramento Book Review, 5/27/10
“The book is an impressive effort…diligently researched, well-constructed, and showing great affection for the subject without ignoring Carlin’s demons, missteps, or low times.”

Los Angeles Magazine, June 2010
“This biography probes [George Carlin’s] life and works.”

Newark Star-Ledger, 6/6/10
“This portrayal, by former San Francisco Chronicle pop culture writer James Sullivan, ought to satisfy anyone who has ever laughed at a Carlin routine—and that takes in a lot of us. From his early days in Greenwich Village clubs through his epic legal battles over words you can’t say on television, which he said anyway, Carlin’s story is inspiring and hilarious. Sullivan correctly nails the reasons for Carlin’s popularity…His spot-on judgment of Carlin’s achievements is worth the read.”

The A.V. Club, 6/3/10
“Offer[s] a broad overview of the formative American stand-up comic…Sullivan’s light hand makes 7 Dirty Words a brisk read.”

Bookslut, June 2010

“There were many iterations of Carlin’s public personality, and Sullivan captures both ends of his life well in his cultural treatise.”

Boston Globe, 6/10/10
“James Sullivan has done an outstanding job in his new book 7 Dirty Words positioning the late comedian George Carlin as a counterculture icon whose loathing of hypocrisy and love of language changed comedy forever…In his new biography, Sullivan manages to skillfully show us the drama of Carlin’s performing career and how it blended with the larger cultural landscape.”

AOL’s Asylum, 6/7/10
“An engrossing tale of one of our greatest comedic minds.”

Internet Review of Books, June 2010
“I can give no reason not to read 7 Dirty Words. Sullivan’s book is an authoritative and well-researched chronicle of Carlin’s professional career, with bits and pieces here and there devoted to his upbringing, his family, and other influences.”
“The Bookworm” column, June 2010
“Sullivan digs deep into American entertainment circa 1950 to 1970, which means that lots of stars from a bygone era are in here: Flip Wilson, Merv Griffin, Danny Kaye, Ed Sullivan, Steve & Eydie, Lenny Bruce, and others you might not recognize if you're under 40. Still, there's enough for younger readers in this book to make it worth a peek. Be aware that Sullivan (James, that is) isn't afraid to liberally use Carlin's infamous Seven, so if profanity bothers you, pass on it. But if you can handle ‘7 Dirty Words,’ the word you want is ‘Y-E-S.’”
Gene Lavanchy, Fox 25 News Boston, 6/25/10
“Sullivan takes a look at the highs and lows, the up-bringing and occasional downfall of a comedy genius…It’s a brilliant book, and if you love George Carlin you have to read it.”
Bookviews, July 2010
“An inside look at Carlin’s unique views as well as his personal battles with addiction, his scrapes with the law, and comedic routines that pulled back the curtain of political correctness to make audiences confront life as he saw it.”
New York Times, 7/9/10
“It fills in and complicates our mental image of Carlin…This book gets the story told…Sullivan convincingly makes the case that for 50 years Carlin ‘may well have produced more laughs than any other human being.’”
Boston Phoenix, 7/2/10
“Sullivan has exhaustively documented the rise of both blue jeans and James Brown, but perhaps his latest book, Seven Dirty Words, has the most to say about the evolution of American society.”
Salon.com, 7/16/10
“Excellent…Insightful…7 Dirty Words deepens Carlin's posthumous memoir by putting his evolution in context. Sullivan deftly mixes quotes from Carlin's friends, rivals, protégés, collaborators and employers with impeccably researched overviews of trends in radio, TV, the record industry and the nightclub circuit. The result is at once an engrossing account of Carlin's life that rarely lapses into hero worship, and a highly readable survey of 20th century popular culture, stretching from the last gasp of vaudeville during the Depression through the rise of premium cable and the Internet. No matter how much you know, or think you know, about American show business, you'll still learn a lot from this book. The sections dealing with the ‘dirty words’ case are especially good.”
ForeWord, July/August 2010
“Sullivan does far more than just record a period in American history when free speech was under assault. He tells the story of one of our funniest and sharpest comedic minds.”
Buffalo News, 7/18/10 (Editor’s Choice)
“Makes its own key contribution to the history of show business…Sullivan is so eloquent and lucid…A very wise and very good book.”
Creative Loafing Charlotte, 7/20/10
“Last year, a kind of posthumous autobiography, Last Words, was published…Now, journalist and cultural critic James Sullivan has published a more detailed look at Carlin's life, which helps fill in some of the gaps in the comedy legend's own version. Sullivan does a good job of presenting a linear rundown of the various incarnations Carlin went through in his 71 years…He's smart enough to let Carlin's story tell itself—and to put it in the context of how one man's inner growth matched the changes many people in America were going through at the same time…Sullivan's approach is that of the straightforward journalist. He doesn't pad the book with Carlin's comedy material, but instead focuses on how the man changed over the years, and how his influence grew…The author has a sharp critical eye.”
Blogcritics.org, 7/28/10
“Sullivan explores the life and times (crimes) of one of the most popular and controversial stand-up comedians in history…While some aspects of Carlin’s material were controversial, Sullivan makes him likable…This biography is thorough, respectful, sensitive and appropriately funny!”
Clark Isaacs (syndicated columnist), 7/22/10
“Sullivan is an accomplished author who is able to demonstrate how comedy changed when new faces entered the scene in the early l950s…One of the most outstanding features of this biography is the behind-the-scenes glimpses of the interrelationship between the comedians who were famous and how they would help aspiring hopefuls achieve their day in the spotlight…Sullivan has written a lasting tribute to this icon of American humor which was well researched, annotated, and most of all, entirely believable. This book is highly recommended for adults who want to have their memories refreshed about comedians of the past and present.”

Under the Radar
, July 2010
“Follows Carlin’s professional growth closely, a...

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818295
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,227,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Twitter: @sullivanjames

My books start with an idea -- a person, place or thing -- that reveals something about the bigger picture. I'm drawn to the unusual and the extraordinary, especially when they spring unexpectedly from the commonplace. I've lived in Queens and Brooklyn, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston. I'm a journalist (Boston Globe, RollingStone.com) and father of three boys. I'm also a baseball fanatic, music nerd, Chuck Taylors connoisseur and a dog lover.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you are interested in George Carlin, first read all his books, watch his DVDs and CDs and you will have it all...he said so himself, everything is there. If you want further information his own autobiography is the place to start. I enjoyed his autobiography but felt it left out much and this book to its credit does fill in a bit of the information I was hoping to find out which pertained to the business of his career , his switch in style and look etc..which I felt George glossed over too quickly in his own memoir.

The first nearly 100 pages of this book however were pretty grueling going and if you've read George's own book could be skipped...go to where he is a working stand up after his partnership with Jack Burns and the rest of the book has many interesting points to make and the author is good at pointing out how Carlins career relates to other events in media and our culture.

Bottom line, if you have all the DVDs, CDs and books and want more...then by all means invest...but ONLY after you have exhausted the complete Carlin authored material.
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Format: Paperback
This boring book has many of the basic facts of Carlin's life (in a dull city-by-city, appearance-by-appearance manner) but is nothing more than an elongated Wikipedia entry with no context and material pulled completely from magazine or TV interviews. The writing style is like reading a term paper and the author has an annoying way of stopping the narrative when he gets to a new Carlin experience to explain the person or show Carlin works with. For example, the writer can't just say Carlin was on the Mike Douglas Show or Merv Griffin Show, he has to give a history of each of the shows' hosts before getting back to Carlin!

There are many problems with this book but the main one is that the author appears to be championing Carlin when an objective writer would provide perspective. I'm glad I read it only because I now understand a little of what made the comedian tick--he was a rebellious Irish Catholic whose dad abandoned the family and died when George was only 8. He had no male authority at home and quickly became a trouble-making brat who skipped through numerous schools, got kicked out of camp, never graduated high school, got in trouble with the law, and got addicted to drugs. Namely, he was screwed up since childhood and that came out in his comedy routines.

If you're looking for behind-the-scenes details on things like how he worked with Marlo Thomas or Doris Day while performing a raunchy comedy act you'll not find it here. Neither as famous or brilliant as this writer claims, Carlin remains a bit of a mystery after reading this. The basic facts are here without depth but when they're told in boring book-report style you end up not feeling you really know the person.
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Format: Paperback
As a fan of George Carlin for many years, I was disappointed in this book. George was certainly no angel, and he had many personal problems. George certainly was the most thought provoking comedian of his time. Sullivan's treatment of his life seemed to become a litany of his gigs, one after the other.
The book also reveals little of comedy as well. If you are a big fan of George Carlin, then this book provides some info that I had been previously unaware of. If you are looking for a book with a lot of laughs, this is not it!!!!
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Format: Kindle Edition
My short list of complaints starts, like everyone else's, with the virtual absence of one-liners. How better to demonstrate an adept comedian, and lighten up even a serious book in the process? Yet the most memorable line herein might be the very unfunny one wherein Carlin opines that if U.S. politicians are selfish and stupid, it's because we the represented are selfish and stupid. There might be a great deal of painful truth in that. In any case, it sounded like the inveterate outsider and keen social observer Carlin claimed himself to be, and a biography about an outsider is never likely to be heartwarming.

On the minus side too, "Seven Dirty Words" is a tad clinical and slow-moving at times. Which is partly because it's tracking the evolution of our culture, and THAT moves slow. And could there be anything more tedious and clinical than discussing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the nature of obscenity in speech? Author Sullivan does so. If this were a television production, right about here is where you'd head for the kitchen or the lav.

Speaking of imperfect as well, the photographs are an odd collection. There's George in his early, middle, and late career years okay, but where's Mom, Dad, big brother, either of his two wives, his handful of managers or his most famous partner, Jack Burns? I can't be the only reader who bounces back and forth between photos and text in a non-fiction work trying to fix a mental image of one of the cast of characters. Here that's not possible.

But despite all that, yes, I liked this book.
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