Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears (Hardcover)
A Best Book of 2023
The author of the New York Times bestseller Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep returns with a lively history of the Academy Awards, focusing on the brutal battles, the starry rivalries, and the colorful behind-the-scenes drama.
America does not have royalty. It has the Academy Awards. For nine decades, perfectly coiffed starlets, debonair leading men, and producers with gold in their eyes have chased the elusive Oscar. What began as an industry banquet in 1929 has now exploded into a hallowed ceremony, complete with red carpets, envelopes, and little gold men. But don’t be fooled by the pomp: the Oscars, more than anything, are a battlefield, where the history of Hollywood—and of America itself—unfolds in dramas large and small. The road to the Oscars may be golden, but it’s paved in blood, sweat, and broken hearts.
In Oscar Wars, Michael Schulman chronicles the remarkable, sprawling history of the Academy Awards and the personal dramas—some iconic, others never-before-revealed—that have played out on the stage and off camera. Unlike other books on the subject, each chapter takes a deep dive into a particular year, conflict, or even category that tells a larger story of cultural change, from Louis B. Mayer to Moonlight. Schulman examines how the red carpet runs through contested turf, and the victors aren't always as clear as the names drawn from envelopes. Caught in the crossfire are people: their thwarted ambitions, their artistic epiphanies, their messy collaborations, their dreams fulfilled or dashed.
Featuring a star-studded cast of some of the most powerful Hollywood players of today and yesterday, as well as outsiders who stormed the palace gates, this captivating history is a collection of revelatory tales, each representing a turning point for the Academy, for the movies, or for the culture at large.
About the Author
Michael Schulman is the author of the New York Times bestseller Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep and a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he has contributed since 2006. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and other publications. He lives in New York City.
"On Oscar night, the true intrigues, hysterics and heartbreaks aren’t just in the films being honored, but in the behind the scenes jockeying for the awards. Schulman has the perfect eye and ear for the telling and entertaining dramas and light comedies leading up to Oscar victory." — Graydon Carter, former editor in chief of Vanity Fair and founder of Air Mail
"Michael Schulman’s book about the Oscars is just delicious—fast-paced and fun but also a serious, well-reported piece of cultural history. With wit and an impeccable sense of timing, Schulman appreciates the glamour without sugar-coating the grit. Entertaining and informative, the book provides welcome escapism without guilt." — Julie Salamon, author of The Devil’s Candy
“A spirited, occasionally dishy history of the [Oscars], touching on the award's most notable controversies and existential questions." — New York Times
“Educational and gleefully gossipy, this industry tell-all is a wildly entertaining ride.” — Buzzfeed
“Richly entertaining, deeply researched . . . written with a reporter’s rigor and a breezy prose style. . . . This is one of the best recent books about the film business. It is surely the best book about Hollywood’s biggest night.” — Wall Street Journal
“This thorough, fascinating history of the Academy Awards captures the brutal battles, rivalries and behind-the-scenes dramas from the organization's inception to the slap heard around the world.” — USA Today
"I devoured this book! Even for a pop culture obsessive like myself, it floored me in terms of how much I didn’t know about the history of Hollywood and the Academy Awards. The patterns it finds across the decades is surprising and delightful. Equally insightful and dishy, it is a must read for anyone interested in the shocking, absurd, thrilling and fascinating inner workings of the Hollywood machine." — Billy Eichner, comedian
“More than a mere journey through Academy Awards history, this book is a trip through Hollywood’s power struggles.” — Washington Post
"In an era of Hollywood upheaval, Michael Schulman turns out to be the perfect host for the Oscars. Deeply sourced, insightful and wildly entertaining, Oscar Wars traces the history of Hollywood’s biggest night from the demise of silent films through the camp debacle of Snow White, the Miramax insurgency and the pandemonium of 'the slap.' At once clear-eyed and dishy, this is the ideal resource for anyone who has always wanted to sneak backstage." — Emily Nussbaum, author of I Like to Watch
“Schulman provides just what we need as the same old love-hate drama plays out yet again for Oscar fans and shunners alike: a rich array of unflattering but spellbinding stories about the feuds and failures of judgment that the Academy has thus far managed to weather. . . . A sparkling compendium of show-business anecdotes as well-researched as they are dishy.” — Atlantic
“In an exhaustively detailed history oriented around a dozen or so pivotal ceremonies, [Schulman’s] astute analyses reveal these glam-a-paloozas to be telling case studies integral to understanding the past and gaining perspective on the present . . . . With his slew of colorful mini-biographies and juicy Tinseltown anecdotes, Schulman poses a sharp retort to the nagging question of why we bother keeping the Oscars around. Who in their right mind would want to give them up?” — Guardian
“…[told] with acuity and fitting brio…. Oscar Wars is, among other things, a study of American moviemaking …. a combat narrative, laced with tales of valor and defeat, conquest and submission….” — The Nation
“Thorough research with an eye for drama in this highly entertaining history of the Academy Awards. . . . The behind-the-scenes perspectives don’t skimp on juicy trivia while the connections Schulman draws to larger societal issues illustrate the power and limitations of cinema to reflect and drive change. This will thrill cinephiles.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Rich, deeply reported. . . . This Oscars history mixes all the expected glitz and glamour with enough industry intrigue to power an award-winning drama.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Even before the infamous Will Smith / Chris Rock debacle, the Academy Awards was littered with controversies—the smaller and pettier, the better. Instead of a comprehensive, year-by-year history, Schulman cherry-picks the juiciest battles, such as the Best Actress race in 1950 or the Best Picture battle in 1999, between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love. It’s a shrewd choice, and the book is a fine vehicle for Schulman’s considerable talents. Each chapter is told with narrative flair and grounded in excellent reporting. Hard to put down.” — Esquire
“Michael Shulman is one of the great profile-writers of our time, and one of our best writers, period . . . What Schulman, a student of personality, could accomplish in a study of the Oscars—that most official of personality contests—is limitless. It’s also just a perfect opportunity to spill so much celebrity gossip. I imagine devouring this book poolside, while sipping on a blue drink; a big umbrella overhead, a little umbrella in my glass.” — The Millions
"This lively, gossip-rich account is ideal reading for cineastes." — Library Journal (starred review)
“[A] unique talent for capturing Hollywood madness…you’re sure to find something of intrigue in Schulman’s comprehensive volume on that glittering, golden show, birthplace of the Moonlight fiasco and the slap heard ’round the world.” — Elle
“…just in time for awards-show junkies to inject this delicious (and meticulously researched) bitchery straight into their veins.” — Entertainment Weekly
"Endlessly fascinating . . . . the highly detailed stories function like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each revealing part of the bigger picture. The author . . . clearly knows his subject, and his enthusiasm is thoroughly contagious. — Booklist
"And the award for most entertaining read goes to . . . the glitz, glamour, and drama that make up this extensive history of one of Hollywood’s biggest nights . . . . Whether you religiously see all the nominated films year after year or are looking for a fun book to give to your pop culture obsessed bestie, you’re gonna wanna hit pre-order on this star-worthy read stat." — The Skimm
"Who’s not fascinated with the Academy Awards and all the glamour attached to them—the red carpet, extravagant gowns, glittering jewels, debonair stars and sweet speeches? . . . Schulman . . . goes behind the pomp in Oscar Wars to reveal the real stories behind the scenes, from cultural battles to industry intrigue. His insights and firsthand accounts make for fun reading." — Parade
". . . extraordinary and comprehensive . . . . . unlike any other Oscar history in print, rich with history, rife with insider stories, written with the kind of informal, confidential eloquence that has become a hallmark of [Schulman's] style. — Metro Weekly
“Few have written more compellingly about the ego, campiness, politics, and intrigue of the Academy Awards than Michael Schulman . . . . filled with Schulman’s painstaking research and in-depth reporting….an exhilarating read for everyone from film critics to fans.” — Los Angeles Blade
"A sweeping chronicle of the past that also helps us put every future Oscar telecast into glorious if snarky perspective.” — USA Today