Dead Famous

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780297869801

Price: £18.99

Disclosure: If you buy products using the retailer buttons above, we may earn a commission from the retailers you visit.

During these extraordinary times Greg Jenner is able to sign you a personalised bookplate for your hardback. Please email with the name you would like the book dedicated to and the postal address.

‘Fizzes with clever vignettes and juicy tidbits… [a] joyous romp of a book.’ Guardian

‘A magical mystery tour through the history of celebrity – eye opening, provocative, triumphant.’ Kate Williams, bestselling author and historian

‘A fascinating, rollicking book in search of why, where and how fame strikes. Sit back and enjoy the ride.’ Peter Frankopan

Celebrity, with its neon glow and selfie pout, strikes us as hypermodern. But the famous and infamous have been thrilling, titillating, and outraging us for much longer than we might realise. Whether it was the scandalous Lord Byron, whose poetry sent female fans into an erotic frenzy; or the cheetah-owning, coffin-sleeping, one-legged French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who launched a violent feud with her former best friend; or Edmund Kean, the dazzling Shakespearean actor whose monstrous ego and terrible alcoholism saw him nearly murdered by his own audience – the list of stars whose careers burned bright before the Age of Television is extensive and thrillingly varied.

Celebrities could be heroes or villains; warriors or murderers; brilliant talents, or fraudsters with a flair for fibbing; trendsetters, wilful provocateurs, or tragic victims marketed as freaks of nature. Some craved fame while others had it forced upon them. A few found fame as small children, some had to wait decades to get their break. But uniting them all is the shared origin point: since the early 1700s, celebrity has been one of the most emphatic driving forces in popular culture; it is a lurid cousin to Ancient Greek ideas of glorious and notorious reputation, and its emergence helped to shape public attitudes to ethics, national identity, religious faith, wealth, sexuality, and gender roles.

In this ambitious history, that spans the Bronze Age to the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Greg Jenner assembles a vibrant cast of over 125 actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, freaks, demigods, ruffians, and more, in search of celebrity’s historical roots. He reveals why celebrity burst into life in the early eighteenth century, how it differs to ancient ideas of fame, the techniques through which it was acquired, how it was maintained, the effect it had on public tastes, and the psychological burden stardom could place on those in the glaring limelight. DEAD FAMOUS is a surprising, funny, and fascinating exploration of both a bygone age and how we came to inhabit our modern, fame obsessed society.


A fascinating, rollicking book in search of why, where and how fame strikes. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads
With characteristic wit and curiosity, Jenner reveals the glamour and graft of celebrity lives in this rich, entertaining and original history.
Dr Hannah Greig, historical adviser to The Favourite and Poldark
A magical mystery tour through the history of celebrity - eye opening, provocative, triumphant. Greg Jenner is a suave and generous guide to the glittering, glamorous, often deadly world of celebrity. Dead Famous takes you deep into fabulous lives, tells all about price you pay for fame and explores why the world in which we live needs to make a few shining people into icons who thrill us, obsess us and then, finally, we want to tear apart.
Kate Williams, author and historian
Fizzes with clever vignettes and juicy tidbits... [a] joyous romp of a book.
Fara Dabhoiwala, GUARDIAN
Jenner is equal parts wide-eyed historical buff and sassy polemicist. Like some frisky, over-caffeinated lovechild of Dan Snow and Marina Hyde, he can't help but entertain you, even as he's pouring facts down your throat.
Fara Dabhoiwala, GUARDIAN - Book of the Day
[An] engaging and well-researched book... Jenner brings his material to vivid life
Alexander Larman, OBSERVER
This is a lively look at history's great and gawped at - and how they reshaped the world around them.
There is an enjoyably wide range of cultural references... plenty of half-forgotten quirky treasures
Hermione Eyre, SPECTATOR
Jenner is an engaging tour guide who smuggles some thought-provoking points about our culture into his zippy pen-portraits.
Graeme Thomson, MAIL ON SUNDAY
Roger Lewis, DAILY MAIL
Recommended read... entertaining and resonant stories of celebs from about 1700 to 1950.
Delivers a bounty of colourful anecdotes.
As a tour guide through centuries of celebrity culture, Jenner acts as a kind of Oscar Wilde figure, dispensing wisdom and wit in equal measure, producing a fiendishly enjoyable and thoroughly engaging look at other people's lives.
A fiendishly enjoyable and thoroughly engaging look at other people's lives.
Irish Times
Jenner pulls it off in a learned but entertaining book.
Who Do You Think You Are Magazine