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Hip: The History First Edition Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060528171
ISBN-10: 0060528176
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

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, Hipmay quickly become the most well-read book in your nonfiction collection.–Emily Lloyd, formerly at Rehoboth Beach Public Library, DE
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (October 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060528176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060528171
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,377,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book takes the reader on a remarkable journey from 17th century plantations to 21st century Williamsburg, Brooklyn. On route, we meet America's greatest hipsters- people who used language and manipulated the forces around them to transform society, from Mark Twain to Muhammed Ali, from Charlie Parker to Richard Hell. Leland draws a family tree linking the most influential cuktural movements across generations, detailing not only how the unique American experience begat our cultural icons, but how, in turn, those enlightened individuals have shaped the world around them, our world.

"Hip: A History" is sufficiently thorough and analytical to read like a textbook of American cultural history. But its much more than that. Leland's narratives put us right in the middle of some of the most provocative scenes: minstrel shows, the beats, bebops, early hip-hop and grafetti art, to name a few. You may not always agree with Leland about what is hip; that's part of the fun. But get on board for this trip across the racial, ethnic, geographic, economic and cultural divide that has brought us together and torn us apart over the last 350 years and catch a glimpse of the artists who had their fingers on the pulse of their America. Its quite a ride.
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By A. Keller on January 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In Hip: The History Leland offers up nothing less than an alternate history of the development and importance of American pop culture to understanding America as a whole. In doing so he makes us rethink the familiar (Bugs Bunny, Miles Davis, William Burroughs, Lou Reed, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman) in light of the common thread of "hip," which he refuses to define too simply. At the heart of the book is an attempt to rethink the complex interplay of black and white culture throughout American history, its effect on the arts, commerce, and background noise of our lives. Leland does not overlook the destructiveness of this story in the history of America, but he's out to show how productive the tensions have been as well. And it's not the only story he has to tell: the book sheds light equally on writers in the nineteenth century (Emerson and Thoreau among them), musicians in the early, middle and late twentieth, computer geeks in the last twenty years, and, of course, the jewfro.

The book is ambitious in the best sense of the word and invites, even compels argument from its readers, many of whom will know bits and pieces of this story but will almost certainly not have put all these pieces together in this way. And, while it is magisterial in its breadth, Leland's many years as a professional magazine and newspaper writer lend it a refreshing and easy style. He can be humorous and convincing seemingly at will, and despite the book's length (300+ pages), he does not waste words: it's really a fun read.

Is this book for you? Well, if you're a forty-something like myself and you're looking at this review, then you've probably thought about a lot of this stuff on your own.
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Format: Hardcover
Clearly, those who say don't know and those who know don't

say; if you gotta ask, you ain't never gonna know; you might

as well be loading mercury with a pitchfork. And yet there

is something called hip, and it seems to have a story.

_Hip:_The_History_, by John Leland, takes a shot at it, even

if it can't be told.

Right at the beginning, then, Leland has this fairly serious

problem which is yet part of his story, and maybe even an

assistant; and that is finding the definition of _hip_. (You

can't tell the players without a program.) He earnestly

derives the word from Wolof etymons meaning "to know" or "to

open one's eyes"; but clearly it's not ordinary knowledge of

the sort which comes from experience, or the traditions conveyed

by elders, or from assiduous study. "Hep" or "hip" was at

first a word used by Negro slaves to denote knowledge of things

the White man didn't know about, and it came by whispers and

signs and subtle gestures.

The centrality of the African experience to hip is something

Leland doesn't forget about as he traces the history of hip

from slavery days. As the still-oppressed descendants of the

slaves moved to the big industrial cities of America after

the Civil War and especially in early the 20th century, they

ran into many other un-Whites: the Irish, the Jews, the

Italians, the "Spanish" (we say "Hispanics").
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Format: Paperback
My friends always told me I was not hip, uncool, etc... So I decided to read this book to learn what one means by the term hip. I found this book very interesting, quite insightful, and a great text for understanding the history and origins of not only modern American black culture, but pop culture, street culture, the counter culture, and of course, what is cool and acceptable in social norms. The book shows how much of modern American culture is due to a thesis - antithesis of how blacks and whites dealt with each other, both face-to-face and behind each others' backs. The book also shows how the business community has tried to capitalize on social attitudes, and in turn how social attitudes alternately opposed or accepted changes within the business world; i.e. clothing styles, the consumer culture...

Given the great topic of this book, I found the text difficult to read. The author splices in various slang terms throughout the text, trying to make the words sound like how someone would say them in a street conversation. For example, discussions of jazz music would be written using phrases that jazz musicians and fans would (I assume) use on a daily basis. I guess the author's purpose is to fully expose the reader to the topic matter; but this reader found it difficult to go through and sometimes confusing. This book is an okay read in my opinion.
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