The best books to help fathom Bob Dylan, the enigmatic song-laureate of the 20th century

The Books I Picked & Why

Dylan at 80: It Used to Go Like That, and Now It Goes Like This

By Gary Browning, Constantine Sandis

Dylan at 80: It Used to Go Like That, and Now It Goes Like This

Why this book?

A timely anthology of 35 essays by an interestingly diverse array of contributors. A correspondingly diverse selection of aspects of the multi-dimensional Bob Dylan and his remarkable six-decade career is subjected to forensic scrutiny. No Dylan book peaks beneath the cloak of so many of the mysteries surrounding the enigmatic ‘song and dance man’.


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Chronicles: Volume One

By Bob Dylan

Chronicles: Volume One

Why this book?

An essential read for anyone interested in the life and art of Bob Dylan. The long-awaited autobiography is scarcely the typical celebrity volume. While little more than a taster, providing selected parts of the artist’s story in his own words and in his uniquely engaging voice, the areas covered appear in surprisingly revelatory detail and with extraordinary candor. It is the biggest selling Dylan book, by far, with an initial print run of 250,000, eclipsing all other such titles, its appearance 18 years ago was a major publishing event. Sub-titled Volume One, it begs the question, will we ever see a subsequent edition?


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Bob Dylan: No Direction Home

By Robert Shelton

Bob Dylan: No Direction Home

Why this book?

Among the 1,000 plus books about Bob Dylan this is the closest we have to a full authorised biography. Robert Shelton was with the artist from the beginning in 1961, witnessing all the controversial concerts. No Direction Home is the definitive biography, written with Dylan’s blessing and co-operation and with favoured access to original sources. This beautifully illustrated 2011 edition, edited By Elizabeth Thomson and Patrick Humphries, is an update of the original 1986 standard.


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Jokerman: Reading the Lyrics of Bob Dylan

By Aidan Day

Jokerman: Reading the Lyrics of Bob Dylan

Why this book?

Not the best-known Dylan book but Jokerman is unusually productive in its scholarly analysis of many of the Nobel Laurette’s revered lyrics. Investigating the writer’s use of ‘Identity’ in his work happens to coincide with 20 of his best known and most loved songs. At one level this might be seen as a book for anoraks, but it is much more and likely to be of interest to anyone inclined to seek answers to questions raised in the apparent opacity of these Dylan classics.


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Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock

By Barney Hoskyns

Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock

Why this book?

While not just a Bob Dylan book his presence and that of his powerful manager Albert Grossman dominate this history of the period in the sixties in the artist’s retreat which gave its name to the Woodstock Festival. Hoskins reveals a wealth of fascinating detail of Dylan’s sojourn between his last UK tour of 1966 and his Isle of Wight concert three-and-a-half years later. This was the most crucial period of his artistic development after achieving superstardom in the mid-decade. Holed up in Woodstock with The Band, he remained there until the notorious festival effaced the privacy of his sanctuary, prompting his departure for England.


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