Please recommend great non-fiction books & documentary films
July 26, 2006 1:58 PM   Subscribe

What non-fiction books or documentary films explore a subculture or lifestyle as effectively as Henry Chalfant & Tony Silver's Style Wars and Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels?

Both of these works are the result of an author/filmmaker gaining acceptance into a group of unique individuals and clearly expressing the stories and personalities within it.

Here are a few books in a similar style that I've read so far:

Hunter S. Thompson - Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, etc.
Tom Wolfe - The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, etc.
David Simon - Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
H.G. Bissinger - Friday Night Lights
Evan Wright - Generation Kill
Susan Orlean - The Orchid Thief
Joe Sacco - Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine, The Fixer, etc.

What have I missed?
posted by njm to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz.

Does Trekkies count?

Didn't think so.
posted by arco at 2:10 PM on July 26, 2006

Jenny Livingston's documentary Paris is Burning is wonderful. (she - a white non-trans woman was accepted into the NY underground Black and Latino transgender vogue community to the degree that performers complimented how 'real' [like a 'real' woman] she looked.)

Trekkies (not sure who made it. I know some Trekkies were offended by it, but overall I thought it was respectful).
posted by serazin at 2:12 PM on July 26, 2006

Leon Dash wrote a great book titled "Rosa Lee." He immersed himself into Rosa's family and ended up with a fantastic tome about a family living with addiction. Also, but it may not quite be what you're after, "Trekkies" was a great documentary about the Trekkie subculture. I'm going to keep thinking...
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:14 PM on July 26, 2006

everything by tracy kidder.
posted by jeb at 2:16 PM on July 26, 2006

Also, Rize, Dark Days, and The Lifestyle.

(I'm actually not sure about The Lifestyle. I think there are two documentaries about swingers, and I can't remember for sure that this is the one I liked, but this is what I googled, so hopefully it's good!)
posted by serazin at 2:17 PM on July 26, 2006

Among the Thugs, Bill Buford's inside look at football hooligans.

Monster, the autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:18 PM on July 26, 2006

If you liked Homicide, Simon’s The Corner is also very good.
posted by hilker at 2:19 PM on July 26, 2006

There are plenty of interesting shorter works of literary journalism that do the same thing. McPhee's Giving Good Weight, for example, and some of Joan Didion's writing.
posted by luriete at 2:21 PM on July 26, 2006

I second "Dark Days."
posted by mattbucher at 2:26 PM on July 26, 2006

There are a couple of films about metalheads: Heavy Metal Parking Lot and Metal: a Headbanger's Journey.
posted by vorfeed at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2006

For the humorous sports bent, George Plimpton explored the "average man" trying to make a sports team with several books:

Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback (NFL)
Out of My League: The Classic Hilarious Account of an Amateur's Ordeal in Professional Baseball (MLB)
Open Net (NHL)
The Bogey Man (PGA)
posted by karmaville at 2:29 PM on July 26, 2006

colin turnbull, 'the forest people', 'the mountain people'.
posted by lester at 2:29 PM on July 26, 2006

"The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists" by Neil Strauss
posted by grumblebee at 2:34 PM on July 26, 2006

Do or Die, by Leon Bing. Another chronicle of gang life with some surprising insights.
posted by atchafalaya at 2:40 PM on July 26, 2006

Oh, yes, forgot about Tracy Kidder. Highly recommended. Read Soul of a New Machine and then ask Jessamyn about it. (Her dad is Tom West, who is profiled in the book.)
posted by arco at 2:40 PM on July 26, 2006

Most of John McPhee's writings, as well as Michael Ruhlman's.
posted by ericb at 2:45 PM on July 26, 2006

The classic that is often seen as launching the 20th century non-fiction novel -- Truman Capote's In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences.
posted by ericb at 2:49 PM on July 26, 2006

Regarding documentaries -- check out Grey Gardens and The Cruise.
posted by ericb at 2:51 PM on July 26, 2006

Nickel and Dimed doesn't quite fit your criteria but would definitely interest you.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:59 PM on July 26, 2006

Harlan Ellison, Notes from Purgatory

Oh yeah and Tracy Kidder lived in my house when I was 11. We accepted him as one of our own.
posted by jessamyn at 3:15 PM on July 26, 2006

I second Bill Buford's Among the Thugs and would add his new book Heat, about becoming a kitchen lackey in a NY restaurant (I haven't read it yet, but will pick it up as soon as it's out in paperback, but I heard a nice bit on the radio about it earlier this week and am 99% sure I'll enjoy it).

Unless I missed it, I'm kind of surprised nobody's mentioned Word Freak, about 'professional' Scrabble players.
posted by Ufez Jones at 3:18 PM on July 26, 2006

jessamyn-- somehow that is strangely unsurprising.
posted by jeb at 3:30 PM on July 26, 2006

I have been on an alternative documentary kick all this year.
I was going to recommend Grey Gardens as well. Also:
How's Your News?
Off the Charts: the Song-Poem Story
The Legend of Leigh Bowery
The Nomi Song
How to Draw a Bunny
Keep the River On Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale
New York Doll
Mad Hot Ballroom
Grizzly Man
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession
Divine Trash
Ciao! Manhattan
Downtown 81
(The last two aren't strictly documentaries, but certainly explore subcultures)
posted by Lillitatiana at 3:37 PM on July 26, 2006

Both of these works are the result of an author/filmmaker gaining acceptance into a group of unique individuals and clearly expressing the stories and personalities within it.

You gotta check out Devil's Playground. Amish Teens Gone Wild!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 4:19 PM on July 26, 2006

Speed Tribes: Days and Night's with Japan's Next Generation, by Karl Taro Greenfeld. "Greenfeld, the half-Japanese, half-Caucasian American Tokyo correspondent for The Nation, has written about a little-known, seamy subculture in Japan that became more prominent with the collapse of the "bubble" economy of the 1980s. In 12 compelling chapters, Greenfeld covers the grimier aspects of Tokyo's urban society: organized crime, the nightclub scene, motorcycle gangs (the eponymous bosozoku), computer hackers, ultra-right-wing nationalists, and the porn industry."
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:29 PM on July 26, 2006

Religion and serpent handling in the US:

Salvation on Sand Mountain, by Dennis Covington, and
The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and their Faith, by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald

There's also a great black & white documentary on the subject, Holy Ghost People, which was mostly filmed in Scrabble Creek, WV.
posted by whatzit at 4:36 PM on July 26, 2006

where, rather than US, that should have said Appalachia !
posted by whatzit at 4:39 PM on July 26, 2006

Speaking of Appalachia, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men [James Agee with photos by Walker Evans] is worth reading, even though it's not quite about gainin acceptance, it does have an uncanny voice and insight into what was going on with rural white tenant farmers before the New Deal. For extra good context, pair it with And Their Children After Them which is a look at the same families [the 96 descendants of the three families] two generations later. I read both of these books months ago and have not been able to get them out of my mind since.
posted by jessamyn at 4:46 PM on July 26, 2006

Hackers by Steven Levy.
posted by neuron at 5:56 PM on July 26, 2006

I wouldn't have thought Hackers was quite the ticket, though it's very good (Tracy Kidder's Soul of A New Machine fits it perfectly, as mentioned before).

However, if Hackers does qualify, so should John Berendt's Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.
posted by lhauser at 6:32 PM on July 26, 2006

John Berendt's Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil

And his newest book The City of Falling Angels.

Also, Nicholas Basbanes' A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books and Patience and Fortitude: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy.

Also, consider Jonathan Harr's The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece ["This entertaining book boasts an engaging cast of characters, all of whom are inflicted with the 'Caravaggio disease,' including some of the foremost Caravaggio scholars in the world, persistent students, obsessive restorers, and most of all, the artist himself."]
posted by ericb at 6:47 PM on July 26, 2006

I've heard great things about Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

I also want to second Heat, which I plan to pick up a copy of this week. I think Buford also did another book in which he joined up with a group of Manchester United fans-cum-hooligans for some time.
posted by anjamu at 6:54 PM on July 26, 2006

another book in which he joined up with a group of Manchester United fans-cum-hooligans for some time.

Yes -- as StickyCarpet mentioned (above): 'Among the Thugs.'
posted by ericb at 7:42 PM on July 26, 2006

In Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin writes of his experiences as a white man passing as a black man in the South of the 50's. Monster by Sanyika Shakur is highly compelling and immersive, but he didn't infiltrate the life, he was the life. It's more like he infiltrated the world of words.
posted by roboto at 8:38 PM on July 26, 2006

Donnie Brasco
posted by jikel_morten at 9:15 PM on July 26, 2006

Band of Brothers (both the Stephen Ambrose book, and the HBO Series films) were based on the history of the 101st Airborne Division's Easy Company, from D-Day to the end of WW II in Europe, and featured interviews with members of the company.

Really interesting bit about the Tracy Kidder thing, and jessamyn's connection. Thanks for sharing.
posted by paulsc at 10:17 PM on July 26, 2006

Susan Orlean also wrote Saturday Night--a collection of essays, but it's no longer in print. I rode at the same stable with the sister of one of the people she profiled.
posted by brujita at 11:11 PM on July 26, 2006

Second Tracy Kidder and Michael Ruhlman, especially Ruhlman's food oriented books that aren't cookbooks. The Making of a Chef is probably best for your purposes.

Also second Word Freak, which is a fascinating insight into an obsessive subculture (not to mention addicting my husband to Scrabble, sigh). There's a crossword equivalent that's not nearly as good (unrelated to the current documentary Wordplay).

Jessamyn, that's extremely cool about your dad. Now I have to go reread Soul of a New Machine.
posted by booksherpa at 12:00 AM on July 27, 2006

Newjack, Ted Conover (a New Yorker writer actually goes through prison guard academy and works for a year at Sing Sing)

The Hot Zone, Richard Preston (the rise of the terrifying Ebola virus and the struggle to understand and contain it)

American Fried, Calvin Trillin (more personable, less straight journalism, but great writing about food)

The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill (riveting story of the biggest mass escape from a Nazi prison camp, written by a survivor)
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:39 AM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.
posted by njm at 4:48 PM on July 27, 2006

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