The best books about musicians and music from all genres

Why am I passionate about this?

I have two major passions in life: music and writing. I started learning guitar aged 16, and my friends and I formed a band as soon as we possibly could. My first professional job was writing about pop music for a monthly magazine, and much later in life, I discovered jazz. Now I’m a bass-player, jazz singer, and composer who works with some of the finest jazz musicians in London, and I play regularly at Ronnie Scott’s club. As well as the Donald Fagen biography, I’ve also written biographies of the great jazz singers Mark Murphy (for me, the greatest of them all) and Jon Hendricks.

I wrote...

Nightfly: The Life of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen

By Peter Jones,

Book cover of Nightfly: The Life of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen

What is my book about?

Nightfly tells the story behind one of rock’s most creative and enigmatic stars. Fagen wrote many hits over the years, both in his long partnership with Walter Becker in Steely Dan and as a solo artist. Despite a reputation for sarcasm and deliberate obscurity, he is one of the most gifted artists in the history of rock music. This book lifts the veil to explain his complex music, his mysterious lyrics, and the man himself.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Raving Upon Thames: An Untold Story of Sixties London

Peter Jones Why did I love this book?

I grew up in south-west London, and still live here.

My formative years were spent going to rock gigs in local clubs, pubs, and colleges, when bands like Genesis, Black Sabbath, the Soft Machine, and Pink Floyd were still playing in small venues. Queen’s Brian May went to my school, as did half of the Yardbirds.

This book reflects that era, particularly the amazing goings-on at Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, where gigs were held in a crumbling hotel infested with hippies and other ne’er-do-wells… including me and some of my closest friends.

Book cover of Music: A Subversive History

Peter Jones Why did I love this book?

A Subversive History of Music is not just fascinating, but scholarly, thought-provoking, and accessible.

I’ve always believed that music springs from the least expected sources, most of them “unofficial”, and Gioia seems to agree. The central idea is this: musical innovation never springs from society’s officially approved sources, but from its despised outsiders, those with little or no power in everyday life – women, black people, young people – who develop their ideas in isolation from the mainstream.

Very often they live in port cities like New Orleans or Liverpool, which are flooded with influences from elsewhere.

By Ted Gioia,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Music as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The phrase "music history" likely summons up images of long-dead composers, smug men in wigs and waistcoats, and people dancing without touching. In Music: A Subversive History, Gioia responds to the false notions that undergird this tedium. Traditional histories of music, Gioia contents, downplay those elements of music that are considered disreputable or irrational-its deep connections to sexuality, magic, trance and alternative mind states, healing, social control, generational conflict, political unrest, even violence and murder. They suppress the stories of the outsiders and rebels who created musical revolutions and instead celebrate the mainstream assimilators who borrowed innovations, diluted their impact,…

Book cover of One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time

Peter Jones Why did I love this book?

You thought you knew everything there was to know about The Beatles. I thought I did. I was wrong.

Craig Brown somehow manages to tell a very familiar story with details that either you never knew or had forgotten. He isn’t scraping the barrel: the book is full of excellent stories about the Fab Four, and sheds new light on where the band came from and where they ended up. It’s more than 600 pages long, and beautifully written, but a very easy read.

By Craig Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Two Three Four as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED for the Baillie Gifford Prize's 25th Anniversary Winner of Winners award


A Spectator Book of the Year * A Times Book of the Year * A Telegraph Book of the Year * A Sunday Times Book of the Year

From the award-winning author of Ma'am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret comes a fascinating, hilarious, kaleidoscopic biography of the Fab Four.

John Updike compared them to 'the sun coming out on an Easter morning'. Bob Dylan introduced them to drugs. The Duchess of Windsor adored them. Noel Coward despised them. JRR Tolkien…

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

Peter Jones Why did I love this book?

When I was growing up, the fabled 1969 Woodstock music festival was a byword for the alternative drop-out culture of hippiedom then at its height.

Even today, people remember it and the town that gave it its name (although it's actually located 40 miles from the site of the festival). What’s perhaps less well known is that Woodstock first became Hippie Central several years before, after Bob Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman moved there, and it continued to attract musicians and artists long afterwards.

This book tells an often shocking tale of excess – drink, drugs, and sexual shenanigans. (And incidentally, Donald Fagen now divides his time between Woodstock and New York.)

By Barney Hoskyns,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Small Town Talk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Think "Woodstock" and the mind turns to the seminal 1969 festival that crowned a seismic decade of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. But the town of Woodstock, New York, the original planned venue of the concert, is located over 60 miles from the site to which the fabled half a million flocked. Long before the landmark music festival usurped the name, Woodstock-the tiny Catskills town where Bob Dylan holed up after his infamous 1966 motorcycle accident-was already a key location in the '60s rock landscape. In Small Town Talk, Barney Hoskyns re-creates Woodstock's community of brilliant dysfunctional musicians, scheming…

Book cover of Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom

Peter Jones Why did I love this book?

I make no apology for including this immense and important work. So much of the music I love originated with the kidnapping of black people from Africa.

This book shows how not merely the music of Africa but whole swathes of culture now considered “American” were imported along with the slaves. How did they cope with being ripped from their homeland, transported across the Atlantic in chains, and forced to work in the fields of an alien land?

Levine lays it all out, including everything from Black religion to Black comedy, and despite what you might think, it’s a real page-turner.

By Lawrence W. Levine,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Black Culture and Black Consciousness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Black Culture and Black Consciousness first appeared thirty years ago, it marked a revolution in our understanding of African American history. Contrary to prevailing ideas at the time, which held that African culture disappeared quickly under slavery and that black Americans had little group pride, history, or cohesiveness, Levine uncovered a cultural treasure trove, illuminating a rich and complex African American oral tradition, including songs,
proverbs, jokes, folktales, and long narrative poems called toasts-work that dated from before and after emancipation. The fact that these ideas and sources seem so commonplace now is in large part due this book…

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A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

Book cover of A Particular Man

Lesley Glaister Author Of A Particular Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

About myself: As a novelist I’m crazy for detail. I believe it’s the odd and unexpected aspects of life that bring both characters and story worlds to life. This means that I try to be an observer at all times, keeping alert and using all five – and maybe six – senses. My perfect writing morning begins with a dog walk in the woods or on a beach, say, while keeping my senses sharp to the world around me and listening out for the first whisper of what the day’s writing will bring.

Lesley's book list on relationships and sexuality in post-World War II Britain

What is my book about?

This book is a literary historical novel. It is set in Britain immediately after World War II, when people – gay, straight, young, and old - are struggling to get back on track with their lives, including their love lives. Because of the turmoil of the times, the number of losses, and the dangerous and peculiar circumstances people find themselves in, sexual mores have become shaken and stirred.

But what happened after the war, in the time of healing and settling down? This novel examines the emotional, romantic, and sexual lives of three characters searching for a way to proceed.

A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

What is this book about?

Love never dies in this novel by “a writer of addictive emotional thrillers” (The Independent).

Told from three perspectives A Particular Man is about love, truth and the unpredictable consequences of loss.

When Edgar dies in a Far East prisoner-of-war camp it breaks the heart of fellow prisoner Starling. In Edgar’s final moments, Starling makes him a promise. When, after the war, he visits Edgar’s family, to fulfil this promise, Edgar's mother Clementine mistakes him for another man.

Her mistake allows him access to Edgar’s home and to those who loved him, stirring powerful and disorientating emotions, and embroiling him…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in rock music, folklore, and music?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about rock music, folklore, and music.

Rock Music Explore 232 books about rock music
Folklore Explore 357 books about folklore
Music Explore 657 books about music