Too many tv companion books offer little more than boring recaps of episodes with maybe some commentary of varying quality added.
This book is not like that, happily. Instead, we get short essays that are related to the episodes sometimes only tangentially, but illuminate the culture , current events, and aesthetics of the era " Mad Men " is set in.
Grouped by broad categories, these essays ( by multiple contributors) are quick and to the point, and cover many surprising topics. Some expand on small details of the show that you may have missed ( I know I did), or cover a major societal shift.
The book is a pleasure to look at- beautifully designed, with many full color photos and illustrations and a bold and simple overall look.
When I say this is a book that you'd never guess was an adaptation of a website, I mean that as a compliment.
on July 20, 2010
This is the smartest and the most fun of all the Mad Men books -- and it's also the most beautiful. Natasha Vargas-Cooper is obviously a fan, but she's also a terrific writer; and I am in awe at her success at finding the photos, ads and images that became the icons of the era. Her explanations of "How to be a Betty" and "Sex and the Single Girl" should become classics.
When someone asks me what the TV show Mad Men is about (after hearing me rant on and on about its utter genius), I usually say something like: it's about the cultural shift of the 1960s, backed by the history of its time and the extremely pertinent New York advertising age. Natasha Vargas-Cooper says it a bit better:
"It's about the culture clash and contradictions that occurred during the twilight of the Eisenhower era, the great societal shake-up of the 1960s, and how that pressurized time in history formed modern America, its families, its consciousness, and its consumers."
It's because of that overwhelmingly detailed, yet spot on, prose that I was attracted to Vargas-Cooper's writing. Although an unauthorized guide to the show, it's a fantastic companion piece (and I highly Matt Weiner hiring her as a researcher for the show). Separated into different sections (The Ads and the Men Who Made Them; Style; Smoking, Drinking, and Drugging; etc...) the book delves deeper into everything the show represents, giving a grander understanding to each ad, each character trait, and each decorated home.
It's not just an ode to Mad Men - it's a cultural study of the time period (or, as the book says, "a romp through 1960s America"). It uses Mad Men as a backdrop to discuss what was really going on, from fashion to politics. Those who are intrigued by the age would be just as interested in the literary work.
The first chapter, which discussed actual advertising from that time period and the movers and shakers that made it happen, was actually my favorite. It overviewed the historic ad campaigns (Marlboro Man, Volkswagen Think Small, Western Union, etc), showing the actual ad and how it was thought up. After each company and product was discussed, it showed how some Mad Men ads were similar, and how the characters mirror some of the real high power people of that age. It shows how Sal's art was at turmoil due to the fact that many companies started to turn to photographs; how shops were re-designed, much like Menken's. My personal favorite, it showed the start of the font Helvetica, and how it was used as an "everyman" sort of font that people could understand despite size and wasn't too fancy or too bold.
Other chapters went into the style, movies, literature, and decor of the time period, showing where Betty may have gotten her fashion influence. It shows how the times are changing, and how the characters must evolve with it (tighter waists like Joan, fuller skirts like Betty's). Or, how certain movie actors of the time were very similar to some of the leading characters (the Cary Grant/Clark Gable/Humphrey Bogart/John Wayne sexual alchemy of Don Draper). Or, the books the characters read, and how they showcase another side of the character's life.
Indeed, the book is completely inclusive, discussing every aspect the 1960s and show both represent. It offers a fuller look into the program, but more so, a deeper look into the time period and what the characters were up against. It was a book I purchased and figured i'd read on and off throughout the holiday season, as it wasn't a page-turning fiction novel, but greedily devoured in around three days. The chapters are short and too the point, with enough detail piled in that it had me repeatedly wanting to share the information with others. I'm excited to see what Vargas-Cooper has in store next.
Is it time for season five yet?
on July 22, 2010
I've been a fan of Natasha Vargas-Cooper's Web site and was looking forward with anticipation to Mad Men Unbuttoned. It casts intriguing light on the behind the scenes story of many aspects of the show, from flight attendants to the lives of housewives and models to literature. I'd recommend it for those who are interested in 1960s history, and who've been driven to Google by the references made by the characters. Just don't expect the book to be the definitive answer on these subjects. Some of the essays are a little sketchy and seem a bit cobbled together to pad the book. The Grace Kelly one in particular could have been more comprehensive. The Web site Basket of Kisses has analyzed the Betty Draper-Grace Kelly connection in a much more insightful way. Likewise, there's no question what Carla would be called in Westchester -- she's a "housekeeper." But aside from the quibbles, it's a fun read and it will be a good companion to Season 4.
on September 15, 2010
This book is just fine...if you're not a follower of Vargas-Cooper's website. Essentially, the book is the website in paperback form, as other reviewers have stated. While the book itself isn't bad, it's just pretty disappointing if you've read all the articles on the website. It does have some lovely images, but that's not enough to justify keeping the book for me. If you want a nice book to keep on your coffee table with condensed articles regarding show references, this is great. For me, I think I'll pass.
on August 24, 2010
Because I have been a Mad Men series devotee since its debut, I thought the book would be more illuminating about the series than I found it to be. The first few chapters dealt extensively--and convincingly--with characters in the TV show and the realities of the 1960s setting of the series. The author was extreme;ly insightful with her comments about what was happening in the advertising world in real life at the time and the characters on the TV screen. Second half, not so much. As I read further into the book, Mad Men characters were mentioned much less often. The latter chapters didn't do much to interweave the Mad Men characters into the themes of the chapters. Truthfully, by the time I finished Mad Men Unbuttoned, I felt let down, much like a Lucky Strike cigarette must have felt when it got snuffed out in a cup of half-drunk coffee.
on August 4, 2010
Regardless if you watch the show this book is wonderful! You're given an introduction to the characters so any references could be understood without much knowledge of the show because it really is so much more than an "episode guide".
Really interesting book, well written, wonderful pictures. Even though it's a paperback the pictures and overall design of the book make it feel like a beautiful hardcover coffee table book.
10 THUMBS UP!
on September 25, 2013
Many books have been written that ride the long and lucrative coattails of AMC's "Mad Men". And because so many of them are the kind of quick-turn, fast-buck affairs that would make Roger Sterling smile as he counted his profits, the ones that actually attempt to be more than fanzines are often lost in the crowd. These are books that strive to be relevant not simply to admirers of the show, but to those who believe that the Mad Men era holds some insights into why we are the way we are today.
That Natasha Vargas-Cooper's "Mad Men Unbuttoned" belongs to that latter, smaller, more contemplative group, is apparent from the opening pages when she writes that
"["Mad Men" is] about the culture clash and contradictions that occurred during the twilight of the Eisenhower era, the great societal shake-up of the 1960s, and how that pressurized time in history formed modern America, its families, its consciousness, and its consumers."
The resulting book is therefore (to read the rest of this review, please visit: theagencyreview.wordpress.com/unbuttoned)