The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song

9781594488498_large_The_B_SideEverybody knows and loves the American Songbook. But it’s less widely understood that in about 1950, this stream of great songs more or less dried up. All of a sudden, what came over the radio wasn’t Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin, but “Come on-a My House” and “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” Elvis and rock and roll arrived a few years later, and at that point the game was truly up. What happened, and why? In The B-Side, acclaimed cultural historian Ben Yagoda answers those questions in a fascinating piece of detective work. Drawing on previously untapped archival sources and on scores of interviews—the voices include Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, Linda Ronstadt, and Herb Alpert—the book illuminates broad musical trends through a series of intertwined stories. Among them are the battle between ASCAP and Broadcast Music, Inc.; the revolution in jazz after World War II; the impact of radio and then television; and the bitter, decades-long feud between Mitch Miller and Frank Sinatra.
January 22, 2015
Riverhead Books
ASIN: 1594488495
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You Need to Read This: The Death of the Imperative Mode, the Rise of the American Glottal Stop, the Bizarre Popularity of “Amongst,” and Other Cuckoo Things That Have Happened to the English Language (Kindle Edition)

From the phenomenon of curate, to the rise of the glottal stop, to the prevalence of starting sentences with so, to the story of an epithet of the moment (douchey), Yagoda chronicles the trends in our language. In the second payou-need-to-read-thisrt of You Need to Read This, he examines the issue of mistakes and “mistakes,” and the battles between prescriptivists, who nitpick grammar, and descriptivists, who defend new expressions and casual usage. Yagoda is on the front lines of the language wars, and you need to read this book to find out which side you’re on.

June 10, 2014
Riverhead Trade, 139 pages

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You can order the book to read on any computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone here

How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them


This book is based largely on my twenty years experience teaching writing at the University of Delaware. I’ve noticed that a relatively small list of mistakes and problems accounted for the vast majority of the comments and corrections I make on my students’ work. The book is an explanation of these problem spots, and a guide to getting them out of your writing. If you have a writing emergency right now, check out my On Writing section.

Phliadelphia Inquirer

“He attempts to reach his readers where they are, and in that sense, his book is better than inspiring; it’s empowering.”

The Baltimore Sun

“His advice is straightforward, plain-spoken, lucid, and sound.”

The Christian Science Monitor

“This quick primer is a perfect refresher and update on writing acceptable copy.”

The Atlantic

“Copy, grammar, and writing nerds, bookmark this one: Learn the art of writing better (or ‘not-writing-badly’) with the ever-enjoyable but also effectively instructional Yagoda.”

Beth Kephart Books

“It is a book that asks us to be mindful, to look back over own shoulders at the language trail we leave, to be our own best copy editors, to read, to look things up.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A useful addition to any writer’s bookshelf.”

February 5, 2013
Riverhead Trade 392 pages
ISBN: 1594488487

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Memoir: A History


From Augustine’s Confessions to Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors, from Julius Caesar to Ulysses S. Grant, from Mark Twain to David Sedaris, the art of memoir has had a fascinating life, and deserves its own biography. “As Yagoda says: ‘Memoir has become the central form of the culture: not only the way stories are told, but the way arguments are put forth, products and properties marketed, ideas floated, acts justified, reputations constructed or salvaged. How did we come to this pass? The only way to answer that question is to go back a couple of thousand years and tell the story from the beginning,'” which is just what Yagoda does in this “excellent” history (The Washington Post).

Published November 12, 2009 Riverhead Hardcover
304 pages
ISBN: 159448886X

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When You Catch an Adjective, Kill it: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse


“In the end, it came down to two potential titles. Number one, ‘When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It.’ Number two, ‘Pimp My Ride.’ I have to admit that I carry a torch for number two–which alludes, of course, to the popular MTV series in which a posse of automotive artisans take a run-down jalopy and sleek it up into an awe-inspiring vehicle containing many square yards of plush velvet and an astonishing number of LCD screens. Leaving aside the fact that it would have lent a faint aura of hipness to a book otherwise sorely lacking in street cred, ‘Pimp My Ride’ illustrates a deep and wonderful truth about the parts of speech: they change like the dickens. ‘Pimp’–a noun meaning a procurer of prostitutes–turns into a transitive verb, meaning, roughly, ‘to make pimp-worthy.’ And the intransitive verb ‘ride’ becomes a noun, meaning that in which one rides.”

Published 2007 Broadway Books
241 pages
ISBN: 0767920775

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The Sound on the Page

sound-on-the-pageIn writing, style matters. Our favorite writers often entertain, move, and inspire us less by what they say than by how they say it. In The Sound on the Page, acclaimed author, teacher, and critic Ben Yagoda offers practical and incisive help for writers on developing and discovering their own style and voice. This wonderfully rich and readable book features interviews with more than 40 of our most important authors discussing their literary style, including: Dave Barry, Harold Bloom, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Bill Bryson, Michael Chabon, Andrei Codrescu, Junot Díaz, Adam Gopnik, Jamaica Kincaid, Michael Kinsley, Elmore Leonard, Elizabeth McCracken, Susan Orlean, Cynthia Ozick, Anna Quindlen, Jonathan Raban, David Thomson, and Tobias Wolff. (Learn more)

Published 2005 HarperResource
267 pages
ISBN: 0060938226

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About Town: The New Yorker and the World it Made


A definitive history of The New Yorker–the greatest and most influential American magazine–published to coincide with its 75th anniversary, in 2000. A New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

“Equable, affectionate and comprehensive…. Yagoda … burrows like a mad mole in 2,500 archival bins and is blessed with a genius for apt quotation.”
–John Leonard, New York Times Book Review

Published 2000 DeCapo
496 pages
ISBN: 0306810239

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The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism

art-of-fact(coedited with Kevin Kerrane)

A collection of articles and book excerpts, “The Art of Fact” traces literary journalism back to such pioneers as Defoe, Dickens, and Orwell, and to crime writers, investigative social reporters, and war correspondents who stretched the limits of genre and even propriety to communicate powerful truth. Hear an extraordinary range of styles–the elegance of Gay Talese, the irony of Joan Didion, the station-house cynicism of David Simon, the high-octane hyperbole of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, the manic intelligence of Richard Ben Cramer–illuminates an extraordinary range of subjects.

Published 1997 Touchstone
558 pages
ISBN: 0684846306

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Will Rogers: A Biography


A biography of a Will Rogers: Cherokee-American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer and actor. Originally published in 1993 by Alfred A. Knopf, “Will Rogers: A Biography” has been continuously in print ever since.

“How lovely that someone has finally written a good biography of Will Rogers. It’s just so pleasant to be reminded of that good and funny man…. In so many ways, he represented the best of the country.”
–Molly Ivins, New York Times Book Review

Published 1993 University of Oklahoma Press
409 pages
ISBN: 0806132388

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2 thoughts on “Books

  1. Pingback: Foreign Journalists and HBO Get Mighty! - Mighty Writers

  2. Pingback: Separating your work from your worth: Three Questions with Ben Yagoda – Chip on Your Shoulder

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