What could possibly justify another Bob Dylan biography? The American troubadour has been endlessly chronicled in books and film. Now Princeton professor and Dylan fanboy Sean Wilentz wants his say. In the 400-page love letter, Wilentz weaves Dylan's story into the cultural history of music in America. Thus far, the book's been getting great reviews, save for at The New York Times, which published early excerpts of the book.
- Connects Dylan to His Environment, writes Allen Barra at Truth Dig: "As someone who had perused much or most of the literature Wilentz refers to, I can testify that he does the best job to date of pulling together the cultural and political strands and weaving them into the big picture."
- Looks Past the Cryptic Lyrics to the Cultural Trends, writes Michael Roth at The Washington Post: "The American historian Sean Wilentz begins his assessment of Bob Dylan by linking him to the classical American composer Aaron Copland, a signal that this book is not just another biography of the chameleon folkie-rock-star-poet-troubadour. Wilentz doesn't rehash reactions to Dylan going electric. Nor does 'Bob Dylan in America' uncover a secret code to explain the famously cryptic lyrics of a man who has been surprising and engaging audiences for more than 50 years. Rather, Wilentz has written a book at once deeply felt and historically layered that shows how Dylan's artistic practice is embedded in and responsive to powerful but subtle currents of American culture."
- It's Disjointed Dylan-Worship, writes a scathing Janet Maslin at The New York Times: "What does 'Bob Dylan in America' intend to tell us — about anything? Mr. Wilentz’s preface has to do a lot of explaining about its arbitrary, nonchronological and proudly obscure choices of subject matter. The preface also states ominously that what follows will be a load of 'hints and provocations, written in the spirit that holds hints, diffused clues, and indirections as the most we can look forward to before returning to the work itself — to Dylan’s work and to each of our own.' ...There is a place such hagiography usually belongs: not on your bookshelf."
- Puts Dylan in a New Setting, writes Tim Rutten at The Los Angeles Times: "Dylan, of course, has been the subject of other biographies and has published the first book in what he intends as a multi-volume autobiography. Wilentz's book stands apart from these in the lucidity of its prose, the rigor of its research and convincing originality of the place he assigns his subject in the context of American cultural history."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.