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Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll Hardcover – 19 Jun 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (19 Jun. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081350
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 0.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 435,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


In an appreciative study that at times verges on the academic, Dolan traces Springsteen 's journey through a song-by-song and album-by-album development --Publisher's Weekly

This is an addictive book, panning cinematically from Springsteen's childhood through his unique career. --Classic Rock Magazine

A serious but plain-spoken thesis of a cultural icon. --The Record Collector

Dolan does a good job of telling the story of his [Bruce Springsteen's] continuing relevance... --Belfast Telegraph

...meticulously detailed biography... --Daily Record

Dolan will usefully complicate your understanding of Saint Bruce. --The Guardian

...meticulously detailed biography... --Daily Record

About the Author

Marc Dolan is an associate professor of English, American studies and film studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Cyclone on 10 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having recently read all three of the current Springsteen biographies, this stands out as the pick. While not as obsessively detailed as Clinton Heylin's effort, nor as rich in personal anecdotes as the Carlin book, Marc Dolan strikes the best balance. His analysis of the social and political environment of Springsteen's work is often surprising in how effectively it places the songs into context; the discussion of the relative value of unreleased and alternative songs is thoughtful; and above all, the story he tells of Springsteen's career is well-reasoned and almost error-free. It doesn't get bogged down in chasing all the "what might have been" alternatives but focuses on the work, and Springsteen's personal reaction to both internal and external situations. It's a great read and substantiates the high regard for Springtseen's acclaimed 40-year career. If you're onlu going to buy one Bruce books, this is the one to get.
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By bagpuss on 25 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My husband is a massive Springsteen fan so I thought this would be perfect for his birthday but unfortunately he says it's written in such a boring style it sends him to sleep!
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By marie shorten on 11 July 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like the book, but a bit too much detail for me.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By azzurra3 on 20 Aug. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I reaally enjoyed reading this. Lots of information and interesting theories about Springsteen's work. I'ts a shame though it doesn't include any views on the latest record.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 29 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A Truly Brilliant Biography of Springsteen and Study of American Culture 1 July 2012
By Elizabeth Boyd - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This stunning, beautifully written biography was just named by the New York Journal of Books as one of a handful of "Outstanding Books that Best Represents America." I cannot do better than this review of it by Amanda Mark, a leading expert on American music and culture:

To those unfamiliar with the process of becoming a musical god (little g), it can sometimes seem like the feat was achieved overnight. Unless you are lucky enough to get in early and crowd the local dive bar at 2:30 A.M. every other Friday to catch the latest "It" band/singer, new superstars seem to Poof! into existence from zero to hero in less time than it takes to get to the bridge of a song.

Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll is not a story of an instant celebrity. This fame and fortune was earned through a lot of blue-collar hard work and old-school American determination.

For those of us who grew up in the eighties, Bruce Springsteen was ubiquitous. He was The Boss. He was Born in the USA. But he didn't start at the top of the pack. It took practice and grit for Springsteen to pull himself out of Asbury Park, New Jersey.

That's what this story is about.

An obvious fan (who would choose to write almost 600 pages about someone they disliked?), Marc Dolan chronicles Springsteen's journey starting at the very beginning of The Boss's musical life, chronicling the purchase of his first instrument, an old second hand guitar. This is the same guitar that Springsteen used to teach himself "Twist and Shout."

But Mr. Dolan's book does not focus exclusively on Bruce Springsteen. Musicians are often reflections of the society in which they live and work. It is just as important to understand the history of the formative era in order to better grasp how the artist found his musical voice. This book also tells the story of blue collar America in the 1960s.

Musically, the 1960s were a study in dichotomy. On one hand, singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan were writing politically conscious songs. On the other, the British Invasion was all about having fun and rebelling through rock.

Somehow Springsteen managed to walk in both worlds. From the beginning, The Boss was never really interested in a solo career. He wanted to front a band of strong musicians, the more the merrier. Yet as he matured as a musician and songwriter, his set lists increasingly featured original material. Dylan especially was a powerful influence.

Marc Dolan's writing is descriptive, but not overly flowery or fan boy-ish. He is very adept at pulling the reader into his book and telling an interesting story--even if The Boss is not a mainstay on one's iPod.

In today's entertainment world, it is so hard to find acts that live up to all the overblown hype. Like The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll more than delivers.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
a fine addition to the Springsteen literary canon 1 July 2012
By M J Heilbron Jr. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marc Dolan has written a fine addition to the Springsteen literary canon, an ever-enlarging library that now encompasses dozens of books. Each of those tomes has a particular purpose...a separate voice.
You have Springsteen's own "Songs", which peeks into his process and interpretations. The Dave Marsh books are the biographical bibles, so to speak, but seriously, he's a massive fan from the very beginnings of Springsteen's career. He's not, nor does he say he is, objective. There are others...

In fact, writing about Springsteen (like I sort of am here) or even listening to his music, cannot be objective.
This guy gets into the hearts and minds of people like few musical artists ever have.

Now, THIS book addresses his career using the albums as markers, not a bad way to go when reviewing a musician's career.
The emphasis is on the music, both studio recordings and tours. Clearly, this guy has heard a lot of bootlegs, but I was familiar with most of what he had to say just by listening to the formally released albums.

There wasn't a lot I didn't know (I'm a huge fan and a bit of a know-it-all)...but that didn't stop me from inhaling this book in a weekend, and enjoying every single minute.

In fact, the little things I learned...Billy Joel dedicating "The Entertainer" to Bruce at a concert in the 70's...kept me reading just to see what delightful nugget was to follow.

The reason I didn't pony up for a five-star rating is that I found the author's opinion intruded either too often, or too strongly, when discussing the music. Yes, we're fans, I get it. And like I said, I have no pretense about objectivity...but tonally...the flow of the book... suffered a few times because of it. The thin coverage of "Working On A Dream" felt more like it was secondary to the fact he didn't like the record, than to the fact that perhaps it overall was a critical and popular yawn. It's like he didn't want to say anything bad.

I loved the fact that he stated that the title song was "almost certainly the weakest title song of any Springsteen album"...I happen to agree with that opinion.
Also, the book ends with a tale about "Surprise Surprise", a song "many fans held in even lower esteem than 'The Angel'" and the author describes it as seeming "disposable, juvenile and almost meaningless."
Again, right on.
But these sort of books are supposed to present events of a career in context, and a few times along the way, almost as if he was skirting around a delicate issue, he doesn't.

Overall, though, this is a great read. I'm quibbling, because, well, I'm trying to be "objective". Honest.

And honestly, the majority of this book DOES put his career into context! It tells how the albums fit into his personal history, the current events of the period, and how they reflect back on musical influences both historic and modern popular tastes. The tours each get a few pages, but these feel like more of a tease than a tale.

Perhaps it's not Mr. Dolan's fault that maybe I simply wanted MORE.
That's a compliment.

There are other things that simply aren't his fault.

Springsteen has been putting out music like a man possessed as of late, and the book is woefully outdated on the day it was released.

New "Wrecking Ball", new tour...the treasure trove of music that was the recent "Darkness-The Promise" box set...I'm sure will be addressed in the paperback.
In fact, that will inevitably make this book better because there's already a terrific passage about the original "Wrecking Ball" song performance at Giants Stadium, and there's already LOTS of stuff on "The Promise" (the song) and the other songs that comprise 'The Promise' (the album) that will all come full circle now.

Hopefully THAT edition will then be out of date, because Bruce will have yet another album? Tracks 2? The River box set? Anyone? Is this mike on?

We can only hope.

And I think the author hopes so as well.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The author lets Bruce Springsteen's work speak for itself 18 Sept. 2012
By Smart Cookie - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This isn't a gossipy kind of biography. It's simply about a man and his music. I thought I was a huge Bruce fan, but I learned so much about the music from this book. The book is a historical tome on how Bruce's music evolved...what was going on in his life at the time, his struggle with fame, and how he has evolved as a man, a husband, father, a writer, an American citizen. A real fan of Bruce Springsteen will greatly appreciate the amazing detail in this book.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Bruce in the Bigger Picture 5 July 2012
By Franx - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book reads indeed like being in a classroom. As pointed out above. It is written from a more academic point of view putting Bruce, his albums, songs and lyrics as well as his life into a thematic context. One that is mostly historic, economic, social and musical. It does make reference to the personal and biographical milestones. As a matter of fact it demonstrates the personal and artistic path and growth Springsteen has undertaken. As such it is also about Bruces history and above all development as a human being as well as an artist. We don't learn much about the band, the managers, record labels, the studio sessions or the tours. Other books (Dave Marsh) have captured this. But if you want to know how Bruce fits into the bigger picture, this is a book for you. I mostly enjoyed the coverage over the last 2 decades since Lucky Town and Human Touch including GOTJ, Seeger Sessions and DnD. These periods have not been looked at before. It tells us how Bruce was able to sustain and manage his career since the meteoric rise up to Born in the USA. Few solo artists have produced an extended body of work which covers 4 decades and is a tight reflection of both personal development and historic context. I learned a lot and enjoyed the kindle edition.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A different type of biography 3 Jan. 2013
By Steven Thomson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Finally, a Springsteen book for diehard fans who are already familiar with most aspects of Bruce's life.
This is not a reverential puff book, nor is it a gossipy book or a gloss over book. There are many other books that tell the story of Bruce's life better than Dolan does.
"Promise of Rock and Roll" tells the story of Springsteen's music. For many longtime fans, this is the essence of the Bruce experience.
Starting with writing and performing his first songs with the Castilles and then through Steel Mill, Child, Dr. Zoom and the Bruce Springsteen Band, Dolan examines what was going on in Springsteen's life and times that influenced his music.
What I liked most was the fact that Dolan obviously listened to hundreds of hours of live concerts and unreleased recordings as well as researching what was happening on the Jersey Shore through the past five decades.
If you are a casual fan or just looking for light reading biography, this book is not for you. But if you are one of the countless diehard fans who think you know everything about Springsteen's music, read "Promise of Rock and Roll" and be enlightened.
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