- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (July 29, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143125699
- ISBN-13: 978-0143125693
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 133 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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
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"[A] wonderfully reported and thoughtful exploration… Difficult Men is grand entertainment, and will be fascinating for anyone curious about the perplexing miracles of how great television comes to be."
—Wall Street Journal
"Martin is a thorough reporter and artful storyteller, clearly entranced with, though not deluded by, his subjects… In between the delicious bits of insider trading, the book makes a strong if not terribly revelatory argument for the creative process."
—Los Angeles Times
"Martin offers sharp analysis of the advances in technology and storytelling that helped TV become the 21st century's predominant art form. But his best material comes from interviews with writers, directors, and others who dish about Weiner's egomania, Milch's battles with substance abuse, and Chase's weirdest acid trip ever."
"Enjoyable, wildly readable."
"An engaging, entertaining, and utterly convincing chronicle of television's transformation… Martin operates with an enviable fearlessness, painting warts-and-all portraits of autocratic showrunners such as David Milch (Deadwood), David Simon (The Wire) and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men)… Anyone interested in television should read this book, no matter how much or how little they know about the shows it chronicles."
"Difficult Men, with its vigorous reporting and keen analysis, is one of those books that crystallizes a cultural moment and lets you savor it all the more."
—Dallas Morning News
"Martin's analysis is intelligent and his culture commentary will be of interest to fans of many of today's better-written shows."
—Christian Science Monitor
"Masterful… unveils the mysterious-to-all-but-insiders process that takes place in the rooms where TV shows are written."
—New Orleans Times-Picayune
'Difficult Men delivers what it promises. Martin had good access to actors, writers and producers . . . Difficult Men is an entertaining, well-written peek at the creative process."
—Fort Worth Star Telegram
"A vastly entertaining and insightful look at the creators of some of the most highly esteemed recent television series… Martin’s stated goal is to recount the culmination of what he calls the 'Third Golden Age of Television.' And he does so with his own sophisticated synthesis or reporting, on-set observations, and critical thinking, proving himself as capable of passing judgment, of parsing strengths and weaknesses of any given TV show, as any reviewer who covers the beat… in short, the sort of criticism that must now extend to television as much as it does to any other first-rate art."
"[Showrunners are] as complex and fascinating in Martin’s account as their anti-hero protagonists are on the screen… Breaking Bad, The Shield, and Six Feet Under have dominated the recent cultural conversation in the way that movies did in the 1970s…. Martin thrillingly explains how and why that conversation migrated to the erstwhile 'idiot box.' A lucid and entertaining analysis of contemporary quality TV, highly recommended to anyone who turns on the box to be challenged and engaged."
"Martin deftly traces TV's evolution from an elitist technology in a handful of homes, to an entertainment wasteland reflecting viewers' anomie, to 'the signature American art form of the first decade of the twenty-first century.'"
"Brett Martin lays out the whole story of TV’s new Golden Age — lucidly and backed by awesome reporting (and TV watching)… Difficult Men delivers the inside story of the creation of these landmark TV shows, along with Martin’s astute take on how these series fit into the larger pop cultural landscape of the early 21st century… If I were you, I’d pre-order this terrific book on my Kindle or Nook. It should be among the most talked-about non-fiction titles of the summer."—ctnews.com
A New Yorker "Book to Watch Out For"
A Vulture "Beach Read"
A Christian Science Monitor "10 Best Books of July"
"This book taught me a thing or two about how a few weird executives enabled a handful of weirder writers to make shows I still can't believe were on TV. But what I found more interesting—and disturbing—is how it helped me understand why an otherwise lily-livered, civic-minded nice girl like me wants to curl up with a bunch of commandment-breaking, Constitution-trampling psychos—and that's just the cops."
—Sarah Vowell, New York Times bestselling author of Unfamiliar Fishes, The Worldly Shipmates, and Assassination Vacation
"Aptly titled, and written with verve, humor and constant energy, Difficult Men is as gripping as an episode of The Sopranos or Homeland. Any addict of the new 'golden' television (or extended narratives on premium cable) will love this book. Along the way, it is also one of the smartest books about American television ever written. So don't be surprised if that great creator, David Chase (of The Sopranos), comes out as a mix of Rodney Dangerfield and Hamlet."
—David Thompson, author of The Big Screen and The New Biographical Dictionary of Film
"Brett Martin has accomplished something extraordinary: he has corralled a disparate group of flawed creative geniuses, extracted their tales of struggle and triumph, and melded those stories into a seamless narrative that reads like a nonfiction novel. With characters as rich as these, you can't help but reach the obvious conclusion—Difficult Men would itself make one heck of a TV series."
—Mark Adams, New York Times bestselling author of Turn Left at Machu Picchu
"The new golden age of television drama—addictive, dark, suspenseful, complex, morally murky—finally gets the insanely readable chronicle it deserves in Brett Martin's Difficult Men. This group portrait of the guys who made The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men and Breaking Bad is a deeply reported, tough-minded, revelatory account of what goes on not just in the writers' room but in the writer's head—the thousand decisions fueled by genius, ego, instinct, and anger that lead to the making of a great TV show. Here, at last, is the real story, and it's a lot more exciting than the version that gets told in Emmy acceptance speeches."
—Mark Harris, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
"Sometime in the recent past the conversation changed. My friends were no longer talking about what movie they'd been to see, but what television show was their latest obsession. Brett Martin's smart and entertaining book illuminates why and how this happened—while treating fans to the inside scoop on the brilliant head cases who transformed a low-brow medium into a purveyor of art."
—Julie Salamon, New York Times Bestselling author of The Devil’s Candy and Wendy and the Lost Boys
About the Author
Brett Martin is a correspondent for GQ and won the James Beard Journalism Award in 2012. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Bon Appétit, the New York Times, The New Yorker, and multiple anthologies and publications. He is also a frequent contributor to This American Life. He lives in New Orleans.
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Where it fails, though, is in its focus on just two shows: The Sopranos and The Wire. They occupy more than half of the book. The Shield, Mad Men and Breaking Bad each get a chapter, while everything else -- Sons of Anarchy, Damages, Justified and so on -- are relegated to just a passing mention or two.
It's a good read, but it could have been more varied in its detailed examinations. Many other shows were well into their runs during the period the book covers and are neglected.
Martin argues that The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and a few other high-quality TV shows are "the signature American art form of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the equivalent of what the films of Scorsese, Altman, Coppola, and others had been to the 1970s or the novels of Updike, Roth, and Mailer to the 1960s." His thesis is hard to argue with, and I say that having devoured much of the output of those filmmakers and writers.
Difficult Men dwells largely on the creators of those four celebrated dramas--David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon (The Wire), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad)--plus a few others, especially Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and David Milch (Deadwood). If you've watched any of these programs, you will easily agree with Martin's assertion that their protagonists "belonged to a species you might call Man Beset or Man Harried--badgered and bothered and thwarted by the modern world." As Tony Soprano said, encapsulating the meaning of life for all these men, "'Every day is a gift. It's just . . . does it have to be a pair of socks?'"
The conceit in Martin's title derives from the indisputable fact that Chase, Simon, Weiner, Gilligan, Ball, and Milch collectively possessed enough neuroses, inner conflicts, self-doubts, disappointments, psychological wounds, and personality quirks to match the six leading men of the dramas they brought to the screen. In short, Tony Soprano and Don Draper have nothing on these guys--and Martin amply demonstrates that by recounting the sometimes colorful but excruciatingly frustrating paths most of them followed to sell their shows to HBO, FX, and AMC.
At least one of the six, David Milch, would qualify for the Neurotics' Hall of Fame. Martin describes the time when a writer on one of his shows arrived for his first day of work "to see a man in the second-floor window peeing on the flowers below. `Oh, must be Milch,' the receptionist told him." Milch had (and presumably still has) a reputation as a genius, but he tended to drive everyone working with him around the bend. "At some point," Martin reports, "Milch stopped committing scripts to paper at all, preferring to come to set and extemporaneously dictate lines to the actors." Can you imagine being one of those actors?
Martin draws an interesting parallel between these contemporary serialized television dramas and the work of the Victorian writers--Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and others--who gained the 19th century equivalent of superstardom on the strength of their serialized novels. In both cases, format enabled artistry, allowing the creators to develop complex, fully fleshed characters and story arcs that weren't limited by the 42-minute stricture of today's network-TV "one-hour" dramas.
To my mind, the most fascinating chapter in Difficult Men is the last one before the epilogue. Martin describes sitting for days on end in the writers' room for the show Breaking Bad along with creator (called "showrunner") Vince Gilligan and his crew of very gifted and extravagantly paid screenwriters. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book. You'll never look at TV drama again the same way if you read it.
Difficult Men is a well organized, skillfully crafted, and insightful look at one of the most-watched cultural phenomena of our time.
According to his website, Brett Martin is a correspondent for GQ. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and many others, as well as on public radio's This American Life.
This realization occurred to me while reading Brett Martin's book, 'Difficult Men'. These artists are the driving creative forces behind the best artwork of my lifetime. They should be celebrated. My affection should not be closeted.
Martin hones-in on the showrunners that I love: David Chase, David Simon, David Milch, Mathew Weiner and Vince Gilligan. I'm not sure I've ever devoured a book as I did 'DM'. I couldn't get enough information on these fascinating men and their processes.
Like most artists, they're damaged and reflexive. While they differ in technique, they share a passion and a focus. The expression 'too many cooks spoil the broth' has never been more fitting. These men were able to communicate their single vision and we learn how the TV writing process is both an individual and a group effort
It's not for everyone, but this is certainly a book for writers. If you love one or two of these shows, you'll love this book. This book is not a love-letter; Martin is both a reporter and analyst. He presents deeply flawed, brilliant men, engaged in a high-pressure writing process. These television shows, and the artists that formed them, will be studied a century from now. I'm very confident in offering that prediction.
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