Oral Histories

Staff PicksAnacostia Library

Oral Histories

A well put-together oral history is a beautiful thing. The organizational mind and narrative-building skills of a great writer can be paired with first-person quotes from some of the most interesting and talented people in a given field. Here is a sampling of some of the oral histories DC Public Library has to offer!

All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, by Jonathan Abrams

The Wire is one of the most respected and beloved television series of all time, and this book does a phenomenal job of taking the reader inside the minds of the creators, writers and actors who played a part in it. Abrams begins the narrative even before the show itself, when we learn about how David Simon conceived of the idea and who he collaborated with to make that idea a reality. Some of the most fascinating parts of the book are when you learn how the actors were feeling when filming some of the most memorable and emotional scenes of the series. Reading this book may make you want to start watching The Wire all over again.

Live from New York: The Complete Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, by James Miller

Saturday Night Live is an anomaly in the world of television. It’s been on the air for over 40 years, succeeding (and sometimes failing) through different political eras, public moods and a constantly changing cast. James Miller might be the best-known oral historian currently working, and he does a fantastic job detailing the often crazy week leading up to the broadcast of the show on Saturday. He gets interviews from most of the best-known cast members and creators of the show, and the reader learns just what it takes to put on a live television show, with a guest host and a musical guest, dozens of times a year.

Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, by James Miller

One of the two books by James Miller on this list, this one chronicles the growth of ESPN from a tiny cable channel in the middle of Connecticut to the “worldwide leader” in sports, as it's sometimes known today. It is fascinating to not only see how the company itself grew from just a television channel to the massive corporation it is today, but to see how the world of sports itself grew as well. Miller brings his trademark attention to detail and interest in the subject at hand, and interviews many of the best-known personalities that helped to make ESPN what it is now. 

Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001 to 2011, by Lizzy Goodman 

Lizzy Goodman was living in New York City in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the bands that this book talks about were coming to define rock music for a new generation of listeners. Bands like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and LCD Soundsystem took advantage of “cheap” rent in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to work on their music and create records that spoke to a time and place. This book showcases the huge personalities of some of these musicians, and lets the reader feel, to some extent, what it was like to be there at a very exciting time in music history. 

The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, by Studs Terkel 

An oral history by one of the originators of the modern form, this book looks at the stories of Americans during World War II. It focuses on both veterans and non-veterans to get a wide look at the transformational power of the war on all parts of life. If you’d like to see what preceded many of the other choices on this list, this would be a good place to look.