Your evaluation of THE AMBIENT CENTURY will depend on what you're looking for. I expected serious analysis, and by that criteria would give it 1 star. If what you're interested in, though, is an eclectic encyclopedia of interesting 20th century musicians, loosely grouped by the theme of "ambience," which is never defined, then you might think this is great. (I can't comment on the fact-checking criticism, but to me it's a secondary point.) Prendergast moves from "high art" composers including Debussy and Stockhausen, to "minimalism," to rock, broken into categories such as psychedelic, krautrock and synthesizer music, to the '90s techno/house/drum&bass/ambient trend.
However, his definition of "ambient" involves "music being deconstructed" by Mahler and Debussy (sounds really "postmodern," but what does it mean?), and developments in technology/electronics, along with an "interest in pure sound." He pronounces: "[T]he bleeding heart of electronic progress had by its very nature rendered all recorded music, by definition, Ambient." (4) Given this sort of cosmic perspective Prendergast could have included all music, and what he does include seems to be more or less "cool stuff that I like." Harsh, I know, but does Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door," by any stretch of the conceptual imagination, belong on a list of the Essential 100 Recordings of 20th Century Ambient Music? If so, our author fails to offer any explanation. How about Led Zeppelin IV (ie, ZOSO)? I'm at a loss.
If the book was appropriately titled, I would have much less to criticize. But when you title a book "The Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age," you lead the reader to expect some sort of theoretical analysis -- what sort of evolution? In what direction? What mechanisms are involved? But there is "no there there" if what is happening is just technological progress, and "an interest in pure sound" may characterize Cage's famous *4'33"* (the silent composition), but there is not even an attempt here to argue that it is the direction of 20th century music. If Prendergast really means to emphasize the use of music as background, where is his discussion of Muzak, and music in advertising? He doesn't develop his embryonic theme(s), but rather rushes headlong into profiles of musicians, which are strung together with little connecting analysis.
Caveat emptor -- if you're looking for serious analysis, look elsewhere, but if you want a breezy journalistic encyclopedia of non-mainstream music (that is seen as cool by The Wire magazine) you might find this a useful reference work. (For a model of analysis of cutting edge music, check out Nyman's EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC. It also has a foreward by Brian Eno!)
(verified library loan)