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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 4 October 2001
I was not a huge Elvis Presley fan when I started reading the first volume of Guralnick's superb biography of "The King".However, once I started the book, I was both entralled and it sent me to the records. For me, there can be no higher praise for a music biography. Guralnick tells the story of Elvis's upbringing, his early career and finally his entry into the US Army. It portrays him as a shy and genuine adolescent who went on to change the music business and inspire millions.
As well as looking at Elvis's early life and career, Guralnick turns the spotlight onto other remarkable characters in the story, such as Elvis's parents; Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun records; Dewey Phillips, the Memphis DJ; Elvis's bandmates; and of course the svengali manager 'Colonel' Tom Parker.In this account of Elvis's rise, we are also given an interesting account of the mechanics of the music business and the growing importance of American radio and television at this time. Guralnick manages to offer a portrait of Elvis that cuts through many myths, as well as a fascinating insight into his first concerts and early recording sessions at Sun Studios in Memephis. This is a superb, definitive account of Elvis's rise to fame.Overall, a highly recommended biography that I found difficult to put down.
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I have never read a biography of Elvis before and, searching around, this seemed to be the one which most fans were praising as a serious look at the man and what made him who he was. It is a huge volume and only the first of two books to cover his life, but, to be honest, it could have been even longer. The story was so interesting that you are happy to invest your time and go along for the ride. This enormous biography takes Elvis from his birth in 1935, through his gradual rise to stardom and on to the death of his beloved mother. The author meticulously lists every live concert date, every record and every film made, but that is not all the book is about. As well as explaining how and why Elvis became the huge star he became, it explains who he was. The gentle boy who loved his mother and who never seemed to be anything other than caring (if a little fickle) with his many girlfriends, who was spiritual and clean living - warning his mother against the horrors of drink when she had a beer late at night, who seemed so lonely he ended up with a local entourage to protect and keep him company, was also, undeniably, a very ambitious man. Ambitious not only because he loved music, but because he had risen from poverty and had no intention of going back there, although more because he wanted to care for his parents, with whom he had a very close relationship, than for any personal gain. Also, a man who seemed to prefer to leave any difficulty to the Colonel and slip out from the requirements of personal responsibility at times - not acknowedging the bitterness of Scotty Moore and Bill Black for example, until they resigned in anger at how they were treated financially. This really is THE Elvis biography and continues with Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, which I am really looking forward to reading.
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on 28 December 2004
I have bought many books, in the past which claimed to 'tell the true story of Elvis Presley - only to be bitterly disappointed to find that the books just reiteratered the myths surrounding Elvis and told little of the man himself, but at last, reading this biography, I feel as if I have actually learned something. The book gives an appreciation of what life was like for Elvis during his early career and helps the reader understand the effect this must have had on him. I have already put in my order for Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley which is the follow on book from this - giving Elvis's story from the Army onwards
- can't wait
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on 30 August 2002
(Speaking as a fan) I have read several books about Elvis, and many articles, but I have never found anything that increased my understanding particularly. This book does, to a greater degree than I could have expected. When I'm confused by off-the-point/embarrassed/obsessed fans, incomprehending sceptics etc etc, this book helps me out - it is quite of the highest standard in depth of understanding, humanity and literary quality. I'd give it six stars if I could.
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on 26 June 2015
A decent read and the author is very thorough in the completeness of what makes a robust biography. It includes full bibliography of references at the end, a full index of what pages people/songs/etc appear (as any good biography should have) and a weighty section of notes at the end, that essentially goes through each page and explains where each story came from (author's interviews for example) and in some cases even goes into contradictions that occurred and how he came to land upon the story that is in the book.

The author's dedication to his subject deserves heavy praise. There is good content & facts abound, but it was lacking the compulsive page turner factor for me.

Despite my small hangup, I do look forward to reading the sequel, despite the knowledge/obviousness of where the story is heading. Even the title of the sequel is foreboding "The Unmaking of Elvis Presley" compared to this book's "The Rise of Elvis Presley". Despite the positivity of this book's title, I did find it quite a grey journey rather than the more upbeat, light and hopeful one I was expecting. Which causes me to worry that the sequel will be pitch black.

This first book of two, covers Elvis from just before his birth (setting the scene) & his early years, with the focus really kicking in in his teens, with the book ending when he goes to Germany with the army on September 22 1958, a mere 23 years old.

It's definitely given me a better grasp of Elvis as a person (up to the age of 23 anyway), as I really knew very little of his character before. So I'm glad I started with this biography as it's given me a good foundation and then some.
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on 12 February 2013
This and the second volume, Careless Love, constitute the best biography I've read of a major star. The author is so thorough that you almost feel you've lived Elvis's life - or at least been there at his side. I agree with another reviewer that the pages on Elvis's childhood and early career are a little slow, but it's worth sticking with them because the rest of his life was lived at supersonic speed.

And this is not a partisan, fan's-eye view of Presley. It's a cool, almost cerebral, treatment that will satisfy readers who want something more profound than a rundown of The King's greatest hits. I really admire Peter Guralnick and salute him for this superb biography.
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on 28 December 2015
its just thee best ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever book on elvis. so many good reviews about it I'm sure every positive thing that could be said about it has already been said so I wont repeat myself.....

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on 8 July 2004
Peter Guralnick captures the feel of the times and the excitement of elvis' rise to success with effortlessly readable prose. He obviously talked to everyone who was anyone in elvis' life, and gives us the benefit of countless small insights as a result of what must have been years of research. I can't praise this book enough. Even if you're not an Elvis fan please give it a try - you won't be disappointed. ( and no, I don't work for the publishers!)
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on 29 July 1999
As Bob says, you can feel Elvis breathe when you read this book...
It is the most detailed and fascinating book I have read on ANY subject.
Peter Guralnick is an amazingly compassionate writer, to the extent that you cannot help but love Elvis when you read Last Train to Memphis.
Buy it... you will not be disappointed...
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on 11 July 2011
This is an amazing book, charting the rise of Elvis from birth until
1958. Guralnick paints such an insight into Elvis' world, so that you really do feel as if you are watching from outside of the bubble, listening and watching all these amazing events unfold.
It also provides untold historical detail about Sun records, and all of the other acts that were evolving around the same time as Elvis. It made me realise just how out of the box Elvis was for his time, and how he shaped the future of music and rock n roll forever.

The King really shines through when reading, I couldnt put this book down, and cant recommend it enough. A must for not only Elvis lovers, but for all lovers of real music in general.
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