The Playboy Book

“Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America.”

The Playboy Book

At Ease, by Leroy Neiman, from Playboy magazine (Feb. 1956) and the cover of Elizabeth Fraterrigo's book.

Success. Style. Sex. All components of Playboy’s “good life,” part of a formula that enabled Hugh Hefner’s high-gloss publication to become the most widely read men’s magazine in the world. At the peak of its powers, Playboy not only titillated its audience, it sparked and influenced national debates about sex, marriage, politics and pleasure, all the while promoting a work hard and play hard lifestyle that emphasized conspicuous consumption as a key to personal—and national—well-being.

In “Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America” (Oxford University Press), Elizabeth Fraterrigo—assistant professor of history at Loyola University in Chicago—examines the magazine’s place in postwar America, a time in which sexual mores, gender roles, marriage and family life were evolving, at least in small part due to Playboy’s urging. Though the Playboy brand may be in the midst of a long, slow decline, Fraterrigo’s measured academic analysis (there are 47 pages of footnotes), reminds the reader how Playboy both molded and mirrored American culture in the mid to late twentieth century.

Failure interviewed Fraterrigo by phone to discuss: what readers can expect to learn from her book, what made Playboy so successful, and a handful of Hefner’s pre-Playboy business failures, which in hindsight seem to have been quite fortuitous.

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