Mad Men Unbuttoned is not officially affiliated with the popular TV series, so if you’re looking for glossy photos of Don Draper and cohorts, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Vargas-Cooper (who still maintains the blog from which this book sprang) is more interested in the show’s cultural background: In dozens of short essays, she writes about the real-life people, firms, and ad campaigns that are reflected in the show; the sexual lives of the characters and real 1960s Americans; and the series’ literary influences, from John Cheever to Ayn Rand.
At the New Yorker’s Book Bench, Meredith Blake calls Unbuttoned, “The most recent, and possibly the richest of the Mad Men books . . . a well-versed primer to the most literate show on television.” At the New York Review of Books blog, Martin Filler writes, “An amusing if only fitfully provocative new book, Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s Mad Men Unbuttoned is likely to become a trivia-lover’s bible, as well as recommended reading for the inevitable college media-studies courses on this pop-cultural phenomenon.” (Stuffed with photos from the era—including some great vintage ads—and witty parallels, Unbuttoned seems intentionally designed as more an amusement than a provocation. The presence of the word “romp” in the book’s subtitle is the clincher.)
In an interview with Blake, Vargas-Cooper drops this prediction, which we’ll have to watch for as Season 4 progresses:
I don’t know what will happen this season, and I’m not sure entirely what they’re going to be reading. But look at the Cheever, Updike, and Philip Roth books that come out at that time. Well, I’m just going to tell you that little Gene Draper doesn’t have a chance: in all those books, a baby dies. I do think that in terms of the literature, if there is one strain that will cross over to the show, it will be the idea that these people have repressed their feelings, and there eventually will be a terrible consequence—say, like what you have in Revolutionary Road. I think it’s going to get really dark. Baby Gene is definitely marked in some way; I think we have an Omen on our hands.
Mad Men Unbuttoned by Natasha Vargas-Cooper
Collins Design, 256 pp., $16.99