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Bob Dylan In America Paperback – 26 May 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (26 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099549298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099549291
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 646,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A panoramic vision of Bob Dylan, his music, his shifting place in American culture, from multiple angles. In fact, reading Sean Wilentz' Bob Dylan in America is as thrilling and surprising as listening to a great Dylan song" (Martin Scorsese)

"Among those who write regularly about Dylan, Wilentz possesses the rare virtues of modesty, nuance and lucidity. If I may extend the Moby-Dick metaphor just a little here, Wilentz is a whale watcher rather than a whale hunter. He is content to observe rather than possess" (Scotland on Sunday)

"Wilentz combines his deep musical knowledge with the skills of a fine historian to write one of the most important, insightful and revelatory books about America, its culture and its people as interpreted through the works of one of its greatest artists" (Irish Times)

"All the American connections that Wilentz draws to explain the appearance of Dylan's music are fascinating, particularly at the outset the connection to Aaron Copland. The writing is strong, the thinking is strong - the book is dense and strong everywhere you look" (Philip Roth)

"Bob Dylan in America is vital reading" (Christopher Bray Literary Review)

Book Description

A brilliantly written and groundbreaking book about Dylan's music and its musical, political and cultural roots in early 20th-century America.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The number of books on Bob Dylan keeps growing but this one really stands out from the crowd. That is because it is by an American historian who excels at putting what Dylan does in the context of wider American history and culture.It puts academic rigour and in depth knowledge first, but without sacrificing readability and warmth - it is not a dry textbook and Wilentz prose is very accessible. The erudition (e.g.the Beat influence on Dylan, the way that Copland and the Popular Front of the '30s and '40s laid the groundwork for Dylan's appropriation of high culture and popular culture) always serves to provide insights that you will not find in other books (by Heylin, Ricks, Marcus, Gray, Williams etc). I was also struck by how well chosen and artfully placed the illustrations are - they're not the same pictures that get used again and again in books and articles about Dylan. It will make you want to go back and listen to even your most familiar Dylan albums again - which is probably the highest praise I can give it.
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Format: Hardcover
You really want to be in the whole of your health to do certain things: ice trucker, deep sea diver, astronaut, Dylan author. Not for the fainthearted or the thin skinned, particulary the latter. There's a whole internet out there waiting for a mistake, any mistake, no matter how trivial. And of course there are the other authors waiting to skewer any slip-up (real or imagined). Needless to say there is also the subject, who, inconveniently, refuses to lie down. And, worst of all, the gnarly old fecker himself has written the best book about Bob Dylan (fiction and nonfiction).
So, Sean Wilentz bit off a lot. But fair play to him he went for it: Bob Dylan in America. That's putting it up to everyone alright.
And, with grace, wit, charm, erudition and skill, he largely succeeds.
Wilentz has wisely chosen not to write a biography nor a blow-by-blow explanation of the songs, rather his book aims to get a sense of what went into the ongoing making of Dylan. The frame of the book is chronological, but Wilentz moves forwards and backwards and sideways as needed (not unlike Chronicles in that sense). So, we get an overview of Aaron Copland and his role in the development of a distinctly American song that works well, if the links between Copland and Dylan feel a little shoehorned at times. He dips back to the turn of the 19th/20th centuries to unpick the tale of Delia (and Blind Willie McTell), he digs deep into the heart of the pre-Civil War American south to explain the development of sacred songs. His chapter on the Beats (and Ginsberg in particular) and Dylan is fantastic: evocative, insightful and exciting. He deals with Dylan's recent output head on and his writing it at its most forensic (by necessity) in dealing with the charges of plagiarism levelled at Dylan.
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Format: Hardcover
Well, I feel I am about to post a "courageous" review, but my personal opinion of this book is not very positive. Bob Dylan may be in America (some of the time) but he certainly isn't much in this book. This was a gift from someone who sadly did not look beyond the title, and simply thought it would be of some interest. As it turned out, I really had trouble finishing it, mostly because the subject matter is of such ponderous tediousness that I could only manage a couple of pages at a time before falling asleep.

It is written by a historian, a Dylan fan and someone clearly passionate about the history of American folk song. Not necessarily a combination guaranteed to produce a work with broad appeal. I spent most of the time asking myself where, in this avalanche of historical gravitas, did poor Bob come in. He was name-checked a few times in what I would call "a bit of a stretch". There are a few chapters actually devoted to him, the making of "Blonde on Blonde", the "Rolling Thunder Revue" and more recent stuff, but for the most part, it appeared that his name got shoe-horned at regular intervals into whatever other dissertation the author had going on. Choppy and uneven in the extreme.

There were some interesting bits, about the spread of popular music and a lot about Blind Willie McTell but, to be brutally frank, I have already forgotten most of what seemed less boring. There was perhaps 20% of the bulk of this tome that I found worth reading. I lent it to a friend and, when he returned it to me (that fact alone tells its own tale), his impressions were very similar to mine.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a book by a serious academic who loves the work of Bob Dylan. So there are some tensions there,but they are resolved by the selective nature of the book. For this reader, there are some chapters of little interest-- Dylan and Copland ; Dylan after 1997. But the chapters on the Beats, the 1964 Philharmonic Hall concert, the making of Blonde on Blonde, the New Haven concert of the Rolling Thunder tour, Blind Willie McTell, and best of all the 1992-3 period, Delia and the Lone Pilgrim are good stuff and relatively accessible.
One personal comment. The experience of the Halloween concert in 1964 in New York was arguably not so different from that of the British audiences in spring 1965. Even if the material was by then (over?)-familiar to BD, half the concert was unfamiliar to the audience and came as a stunning surprise. For anyone brought up on a diet of seeing groups performing their greatest (or only) hits, BD in the Don't Look Back tour was a revelation. In his description of 31/10/64, Wilentz brings it all back.And better than the sleeve notes on the CD, you can actually read it.
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