Tom Cruise

Towards the middle of the book, after the 1970s, the organization falls a bit off the map, making the themes difficult to follow.  Nonetheless, "Gods Like Us" soars when it meditates on individual stars and their personae (John Hughes, Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan).

Tom Cruise, particularly, inspires brilliant analysis.  "He's the star who exists most completely in the nanosecond of filmed presence," writes Burr.  That is why while his performance in "Top Gun" is "as thin as the movie's poster, it is exactly what is called for, since weighty dramatics would have dragged the thing down."

When it comes to fame in relation to the Internet or reality TV, Burr like the rest of us seems lost and overwhelmed. Snooki's lack of authenticity and lack of self-introspection, he suggests, make her the perfect reality star.  As for the Internet: "This is where the flow of fame's history in the last century has been leading, where the waters fan out into a delta of infinite tributaries leading to a vast, undifferentiated sea of celebrity."

In "Gods Like Us," old Hollywood glows.  Burr gives more energy and exuberance to the silents and the Golden Era.  Thus the first half of the book shines and the second half drags. But the whole book is worth guzzling for the golden nuggets on movie stars and celebrity sprinkled throughout.