"The Birth (and Death) of the Cool" is a 2009 book by Ted Giola, about the concept of "cool". Its title is a reference to Miles Davis' 1957 album Birth of the Cool, and the book as a whole is based heavily on the history of jazz, which is where the idea of "cool" came from.
The author's basic thesis is that while "cool" is used as a general word to describe good things, it originally meant a specific attitude, and the idea of "cool" is a recent invention, developed by jazz musicians and their fans. Giola develops the theory that "cool" developed as a way for the African-American community to show non-conformity with the values of white America without risking the consequences of open rebellion. This attitude spread beyond the communities where this was a necessary survival strategy, and became a universal attitude of nonchalance. From this point, "cool" is co-opted by marketers and advertisers and channeled into a form of rebellion that loses its meaning. At that point, society begins to lose its enchantment with "the cool" and gains a new sense of earnestness.
Its a well told story, and is told succinctly. Perhaps too succinctly: one of the few problems I had with this book is how quickly it tries to cover American cultural history from The Jazz Age to the internet age. Some of the examples given of "cool" seem arbitrary. While I wouldn't argue that Frank Sinatra is an important figure in American music and culture, giving him more time than Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan combined might seem to be missing a lot of stories as far as "cool" goes. American popular culture has been such a mix of trends that while the author's interpretation of them is seemingly fitting, there are many other interpretations and examples that could also be found. That objection aside, this book is an interesting take on the history of the culture, and its present direction.
The Birth and Death of the Cool