...a book that does impressive triple duty as an acute portrait of stardom, an insightful chronicle of three rambunctious decades of pop-culture evolution, and a very brainy fan’s notes ... His big-picture commentary is so compressed and fluid that you often scarcely notice how casually he’s able to switch from micro to macro and back inside a single paragraph. As celebrity biographers go, he’s humane but not easily fooled. As a critic, he’s especially sharp and engaging when he’s breaking down Letterman’s trademark predilections.
…[a] lovingly detailed, deeply researched biography … In Zinoman’s description, Letterman was more an ironist than a radical, and his insurrection was carried out more often on the level of tone than that of substance. Still, his relentless urge to defy the expectations of both guests and audience, especially in his first decade in late night, proved an unusual and amazingly creative force within the soft-centered world he inhabited … The book also makes clear, though, why what could easily have turned into an arid exercise in knee-jerk assholism didn’t. Part of what made the show work was the friction that arose between Letterman and his guests, which often made for incredible TV. Audiences were refreshed by Letterman’s sometimes overt hostility toward celebrities, which came naturally to him, since he had a ‘sensitive ear for phoniness and canned talking points.’
The book, light on family history and heavy on Letterman's days at NBC, doesn't have the rich drama of Bill Carter's The Late Shift or the juicy gossip in Henry Pushkin's Johnny Carson. Instead, you get a blurry portrait of a relentless grouch ... for the most part, you're left not learning much more than what die-hard viewers already surmised by watching Late Show desk pieces or reading the March 6 issue of New York magazine in which reporter David Marchese got Letterman at his most unguarded.