Nonfiction Starter Pack: THE DEUCE

Just another night in Times Square


The Deuce premiered on HBO two weeks ahead of schedule. In its first episode, David Simon’s series-length paean to Times Square recreated 70s New York in all its grimy glory, with an ensemble of prostitutes, pimps, gamblers, cops, and James Franco, who plays twins. The show has done nothing to change my opinion that the 70s were the most exciting time in 20th century America.

Fellow 70s enthusiasts will take special delight in The Deuce for its fealty to period detail and the antic spirit of the times. Those to whom The Deuce has introduced the era might read the following works of nonfiction, each of which touches on the show’s themes and and gets my enthusiastic, personal seal of approval—but don’t let that deter you, as my Booklist colleagues, to whose reviews I’ve linked the titles, really liked them, too.


 American Heiress, by Jeffrey Toobin

Imagine if a bumbling group of radicals kidnapped Tiffany Trump and Tiffany Trump became an enthusiastic subversive and appeared in news reports talking about the destruction of the West and got caught on a surveillance camera holding a machine gun while committing an act of terror. Because that’s basically what happened with Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army because it was the 70s and everything was cuckoo bananas. In addition to the story of Hearst’s kidnapping, Toobin provides wonderful insight into 70s political culture and the well-founded hatred of the sort of capitalism The Deuce aims to savage.




Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, by Jeff Chang and DJ Kool Herc

This sweeping history of hip-hop pays special attention to the turmoil of the Bronx in the mid-70s, where it was born.


 Just Kids, by Patti Smith

This book goes to show that being poor in 70s Manhattan was both possible and extremely cool. It also brings home just how fun bookstores used to be. (You can read a long review I wrote of it here.)








 Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, by Will Hermes

Like David Simon, Hermes caroms between the many spheres of the 70s New York demimonde, giving his audience an inkling of the sweeping weirdness happening in the city at that time.


Lucking Out, by James Wolcott

Read this memoir to understand the significance of the Times Square cinema marquees on which The Deuce lingers, as well as to understand the once-relatively mainstream acceptance of porn. Wolcott, who wrote for the Village Voice at the timeprovides the most enlightening explanation of the era’s high / low aesthetic I’ve yet to read.






Please Kill Me, by Legs McNeill and Gillian McCain

Even if you’ve read it already, revisit this oral history of punk rock to clear your mind of HBO’s penultimate foray into 70s nostalgia. The short version of Please Kill Me: New York in the 70s was bonkers, as proven by the testimony of punk rockers who lived through it. (I wrote an essay upon the book’s 20th anniversary, which you can read here.)


The Skies Belong to Us, by Brendan Koerner

The 70s were so crazy that basically anyone could hijack an airplane. And they did, too, sometimes at a clip of 40 times a year. Koerner follows a pair inexpert hijackers in order to highlight the decade’s instability, egregious mistreatment of black people, and shockingly lax airport regulations. Who’d have thought learning about the history of the TSA could be so fun?









About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

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