The Last Giant of Late Night

Book - 2017
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A New York Times Notable Book of 2017

New York Times Bestseller

New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman delivers the definitive story of the life and artistic legacy of David Letterman, the greatest television talk show host of all time and the signature comedic voice of a generation.

In a career spanning more than thirty years, David Letterman redefined the modern talk show with an ironic comic style that transcended traditional television. While he remains one of the most famous stars in America, he is a remote, even reclusive, figure whose career is widely misunderstood. In Letterman, Jason Zinoman, the first comedy critic in the history of the New York Times, mixes groundbreaking reporting with unprecedented access and probing critical analysis to explain the unique entertainer's titanic legacy. Moving from his early days in Indiana to his retirement, Zinoman goes behind the scenes of Letterman's television career to illuminate the origins of his revolutionary comedy, its overlooked influences, and how his work intersects with and reveals his famously eccentric personality.

Zinoman argues that Letterman had three great artistic periods, each distinct and part of his evolution. As he examines key broadcasting moments--"Stupid Pet Tricks" and other captivating segments that defined Late Night with David Letterman--he illuminates Letterman's relationship to his writers, and in particular, the show's co-creator, Merrill Markoe, with whom Letterman shared a long professional and personal connection.

To understand popular culture today, it's necessary to understand David Letterman. With this revealing biography, Zinoman offers a perceptive analysis of the man and the artist whose ironic voice and caustic meta-humor was critical to an entire generation of comedians and viewers--and whose singular style ushered in new tropes that have become clichés in comedy today.

Publisher: New York, NY :, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers,, [2017]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780062377210
Branch Call Number: BIO LETTERMA D. Zinoman 04/2017
Characteristics: xvi, 345 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations (chiefly color) ;,24 cm


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Jul 20, 2018

Despite the title, this is no fawning retrospective. And rightly so--even Letterman (who was interviewed for the book to give his side on many controversies) admits dozens of times how his neurotic behavior led him to do stupid or downright cruel things to friends and former co-workers. He was always a complicated man, much of which came across on the air, and sometimes created incredibly funny on-air moments. No question about how funny his show could be--especially the original Late Night, which is still my favourite and my pick as funniest TV show ever. Fortunately the book digs into the reasons so many people feel that way, and does recall many of the funniest moments, so there are still a lot of laughs. Great, great read for those of us lucky enough to have watched his entire career.

PimaLib_NormS Jun 15, 2017

As someone who followed Dave Letterman’s career since his time on “Late Night”, I was looking forward to reading, “Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night” by Jason Zinoman. I liked it, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant to read. I’ll try to explain. I liked it because it was well-written and researched, and while the author did not try to hide his appreciation of Dave’s career and his place in TV history, the book did not come across as some fanboy, hero-worshipping, piece of fluff. Zinoman wrote at length about Dave’s foibles, neuroses, and downright bad behavior, as well as his being a transformative figure in American television. The book is an honest, balanced portrayal of a complex human being, which is what a biography should be. “Letterman” was a rather melancholy read, though. It seems that Dave was completely incapable of enjoying his success. As a fan, I felt kind of sad that he was so insecure and so full of self-loathing. I had imagined what a blast it would have been to work on “Late Night” and the “Late Show”. Like being part of a big, funny family, but apparently it wasn’t that way at all. That Dave and his crew were able to produce good, sometimes great television is rather amazing, considering all the difficulties they had to overcome, most of which were of Dave’s own making. I hope he has found peace away from the limelight, and with his family.

May 02, 2017

From watching Letterman's show I always found him crabby and snarky but likeable.

After reading this book I now realize what a simmering mess of insecurity he was/is. And for no reason. Here is a smart, talented, funny man who makes people laugh (a gift!) and he makes himself and everyone that works for him miserable. I will never understand this. I thought the same about Johnny Carson after I read Bushkin's book! Just tortured souls I guess.

I loved the book and enjoyed reading the birth of the top ten list and about some of my favorite characters on the show such as Letterman staff writer Chris Elliot's recurring impression of fat Marlon Brando-forever my favorite sketch on Late Night.


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