The best punk rock books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about punk rock and why they recommend each book.

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The Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime

By Michael T. Fournier,

Book cover of The Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime

From Martin’s expansive look at things, let’s move onto a more granular approach – Fournier’s Double Nickels. Fournier focuses on just one band and an album (albeit a double record album and one of the best to come out of punk in the 1980s). The Minutemen played a fast, discordant music that sounded like jazz as much as hardcore thrash music. Fournier’s examination turns up something few people consider, that punk wasn’t all about blistering music but rather sophisticated in its nature. Fournier documents how the bassist in the band, Mike Watt, had extended conversations with one of the most important artists associated with 1980s punk – Raymond Pettibon (who as of now has made his way into accomplished art museums and galleries). They talked about everything from Ludwig Wittgenstein to James Joyce. Band members supposedly got into heated debates about history and would stop at public libraries while…

Who am I?

I was a participant in the D.C. punk scene during the 1980s and helped start an organization known as Positive Force. I remember hearing about the group “Parents of Punkers,” the head of which compared punk to a violent cult. They would go on television and scare watchers about what their kids might be doing. I remember at the time that this missed the realities of my own experiences and made me want to protest this moral panic. But I knew this required some distance from the “punk rock world” I had inhabited. I kept thinking about writing this book and the timing was right.


I wrote...

We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America

By Kevin Mattson,

Book cover of We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America

What is my book about?

Many remember the 1980s as the era of Ronald Reagan, a conservative decade populated by preppies and yuppies dancing to a soundtrack of electronic synth-pop music. In some ways, it was the "MTV generation." However, the decade also produced some of the most creative works of punk culture, from the music of bands like the Minutemen and the Dead Kennedys to avant-garde visual arts, literature, poetry, and film.

In We're Not Here to Entertain, Kevin Mattson documents what Kurt Cobain once called a "punk rock world" --the all-encompassing hardcore-indie culture that incubated his own talent. Mattson shows just how widespread the movement became--ranging across the nation, from D.C. through Ohio and Minnesota to LA--and how democratic it was due to its commitment to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tactics.

Dance of Days

By Mark Andersen, Mark Jenkins,

Book cover of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital

Tells the story of the further development of punk in Washington DC, and the birth of a thousand subgenres, from emo to post-hardcore and beyond, and punk's embracing of a more aware political consciousness, as well as a broader musical spectrum.

Who am I?

My two passions in life are music (especially punk rock) and history, so obviously books about music history really hit the spot for me. As both a fan and a writer / performer, learning about the history of the music I love is very important (not to mention entertaining) for me. Here are some of my favourites.


I wrote...

Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

By Frank Turner,

Book cover of Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

What is my book about?

Taking 36 songs from his back catalogue, folk-punk icon Frank Turner explores his songwriting process. Find out the stories behind the songs forged in the hedonistic years of the mid-2000s North London scene, the ones perfected in Nashville studios, and everything in between. Some of these songs arrive fully-formed, as if they've always been there, some take graft and endless reworking to find 'the one'. In exploring them all, Turner reflects with eloquence, insight, and self-deprecating wit on exactly what it is to be a songwriter.

From love songs and break-up songs to political calls-to-arms; songs composed alone in a hotel room or in soundcheck with the Sleeping Souls, this brilliantly written memoir - featuring exclusive photos of handwritten lyrics and more - is a must-have book for FT fans and anyone curious about how to write music.

Get in the Van

By Henry Rollins,

Book cover of Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag

This book has been my bible for most of my adult life - reading it as a teenager changed everything. Rollins' diaries from the gruelling years of grunt level touring with arguably the most important punk band of them all (Black Flag), it has to be read to be believed, and will make you grateful for everything you have in life, whilst also tweaking your hunger for the road.

Who am I?

My two passions in life are music (especially punk rock) and history, so obviously books about music history really hit the spot for me. As both a fan and a writer / performer, learning about the history of the music I love is very important (not to mention entertaining) for me. Here are some of my favourites.


I wrote...

Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

By Frank Turner,

Book cover of Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

What is my book about?

Taking 36 songs from his back catalogue, folk-punk icon Frank Turner explores his songwriting process. Find out the stories behind the songs forged in the hedonistic years of the mid-2000s North London scene, the ones perfected in Nashville studios, and everything in between. Some of these songs arrive fully-formed, as if they've always been there, some take graft and endless reworking to find 'the one'. In exploring them all, Turner reflects with eloquence, insight, and self-deprecating wit on exactly what it is to be a songwriter.

From love songs and break-up songs to political calls-to-arms; songs composed alone in a hotel room or in soundcheck with the Sleeping Souls, this brilliantly written memoir - featuring exclusive photos of handwritten lyrics and more - is a must-have book for FT fans and anyone curious about how to write music.

The Gospel According to St. Rage

By Karen Eisenbrey,

Book cover of The Gospel According to St. Rage

Loser girl turned punk rock superhero... Those six words should sell you on The Gospel According to St. Rage alone. But that still doesn't do this book any sort of justice because this isn't really a superhero book. Sure, Barbara may have the powers to cause flocks of birds to release their...um...payload onto her enemies with the simple flick of a finger, but she's not out to save the world, she's just out to finally live the life she's been hiding from.

Eisenbrey brought me back to my own high school days with this book that feels like a punk rock song. To those days of trying to make friends, of trying to define who I am. And she does so with rock star class.


Who am I?

As an independent author, I’ve been lucky enough to find a wealth of other independent authors out there. People who are doing things that aren’t quite mainstream. Artists who are experimenting with the written word and doing truly unique things. Where the world is filled with books made for the sole purpose of being turned into movies, these authors are creating works of fiction that are suited for the written word. Masterpieces that will make you think and want to find even more new forms of fiction. Simply put, independent authors are pushing books into new realms that you simply can’t find in the mainstream market.


I wrote...

The Agora Files - Part 1

By Adam Oster,

Book cover of The Agora Files - Part 1

What is my book about?

When dying alone on the hot sands of the Mohave Desert, Cyrus has no regrets. He loves a challenge. Being tasked with running from San Francisco to Boston in fifteen days, while the United States government and a host of bounty hunters hunt for him, sounds like fun. Being at death’s door only a day into his trip doesn’t faze him either. It’s when he’s joined by fellow runner Eve, bringing new emotions to the surface, his confidence cracks.

The Agora Files follows Cyrus Rhodes, a smuggler in a dystopian near-future, as he unwillingly works to take down a corrupt government. This series is a non-stop thrill ride of a road trip across America that looks to expose who the real villains are.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

By Jennifer Egan,

Book cover of A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan’s 2011 novel (and its 2022 sibling novel, The Candy House) take readers back and forth through the recent past and near future as we drop in on the lives of characters at different turning points in their lives. Each chapter takes readers in a new direction that deepens, complicates, or thoroughly upends our sense of characters. It makes for breathtaking reading.


Who am I?

If this list of books sounds like it would make for a great class, that’s because it is! These books form the core of an American Novels Since 1900 class that I teach at the University of Northern Iowa. I didn’t choose them initially because they mess with time, but after teaching them for a number of years, I couldn’t help but notice the ways in which they spoke to one another, and I guess I couldn’t help but be influenced by them as well.


I wrote...

The Cord

By Jim O'Loughlin,

Book cover of The Cord

What is my book about?

The Cord is a science fiction novel that follows life along both ends of a space elevator that connects an orbiting space station to an equatorial island. The story is told in a reverse narrative format that emphasizes the fragile but essential ties across generations. It is a book that messes with time, and I’ve been influenced by some great books which, appropriately, are listed here in reverse chronological order.

Johnny Thunders

By Nina Antonia,

Book cover of Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood

The definitive, authorised Johnny Thunders biography, beautifully written by a beloved confidant of the late New York Doll. With a star like Thunders, lesser writers would give in to the temptation to mythologise, but Antonia is a balanced, clear-eyed biographer, presenting her friend’s complex story with style, compassion, grace, and honesty. Nina is the bohemian queen of decadence and rock ‘n’ roll’s darker side, and this book is one of many jewels in her crown.


Who am I?

I’m a music biographer, and whenever I’ve hinted that the world of rock biography is a bit of a boys’ club, someone will bark names of famous female musicians who’ve written autobiographies at me. All brilliant, but biography is a different animal. It demands sensitivity, trust, intuition, empathy: the writer is presenting the story of another, wooing a publisher, balancing multiple perspectives, being a detective, asking strange questions, penetrating the skin, probing often forgotten places. Female music writers frequently face assumptions ranging from the dismissive to the salacious before being neatly sidelined, but this is changing – slowly.  I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some rare queens of the art here.

I wrote...

Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

By Zoë Howe,

Book cover of Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

What is my book about?

Musically, culturally and even in terms of sheer attitude, the Jesus and Mary Chain stand alone. Their seminal debut album Psychocandy changed the course of popular music, and their iconic blend of psychotic white noise and darkly surreal lyrics that presaged the shoegaze movement continues to enchant and confound.

Zoë Howe's biography is the fierce, frank, and funny tale of the Jesus and Mary Chain, told by the band members and their associates for the very first time. The story begins in the faceless town of East Kilbride, near Glasgow, at the dawn of the 1980s with two intense, chronically shy brothers, Jim and William Reid, listening to music in their shared bedroom. What follows charts an unforgettable journey complete with incendiary live performances, their pivotal relationship with Alan McGee's Creation Records, and those famous fraternal tensions―with plenty of feedback, fighting, and crafting perfect pop music along the way. It is high time this vastly influential group and sometimes public enemy had their say.

I Swear I'll Make It Up to You

By Mishka Shubaly,

Book cover of I Swear I'll Make It Up to You: A Life on the Low Road

In 1992, Mishka Shubaly survived a mass shooting at his school, his parents divorced, his father abandoned him, and he swore he would right all the wrongs for his mother. Instead, he began a love affair with the bottle and barely crawled out, but he did, and we cheer him on at each twist and turn in his journey.

Who am I?

I used my first chemicals at age nine. Why? To change the way I felt about myself and my life. It was the beginning of using externals to fix an internal problem. A 74-year old Native American found me at ten months in recovery. He showed me a path to follow, including opening a house of healing for other women. His teachings, spiritual principles, and a lot of work helped me achieve 32 years in recovery.


I wrote...

Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate

By Marilyn Davis,

Book cover of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate

What is my book about?

Today, Marilyn is a Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist, recently celebrating thirty-two years of abstinence-based recovery. From 1990-2011, she opened and managed North House, an award-winning residential facility for women. Before reaching this milestone, she was a desperate woman on drugs, managing rock bands at night, pretending to be okay, but ultimately giving up on herself, losing her husband, children, and friends due to her addiction.

New in recovery, a chance encounter with Gray Hawk, a 74-year old Native American, showed her that healing herself would include looking within, taking Steps, and creating a house of healing for other women. This book is that journey.

Is It My Body?

By Kim Gordon,

Book cover of Is It My Body?: Selected Texts

Known mostly as the bassist for the noise band, Sonic Youth, Gordon was also a sophisticated critic and supporter of the growing punk movement in America during the 1980s. In this collection of essays (many of them originally published in art magazines), she explains one of the most distinct movements within 1980s punk – “straight edge,” refusing drugs and alcohol, thereby disassociating the classic mantra of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. With a sharp eye, she explains, “These kids are antidrugs, antidrinking, anti-Reagan, and antisex – not so much out of puritanism as from a desire to be in control, and to avoid being manipulated by the consumerist system.” She praises the Do it Yourself (DIY) spirit of 1980s punk, enjoying watching bands “jam econo” (that’s a Minutemen term). She also holds this sort of activity in contrast with the blasé spirit she gets from observing new wave nightclubs…

Who am I?

I was a participant in the D.C. punk scene during the 1980s and helped start an organization known as Positive Force. I remember hearing about the group “Parents of Punkers,” the head of which compared punk to a violent cult. They would go on television and scare watchers about what their kids might be doing. I remember at the time that this missed the realities of my own experiences and made me want to protest this moral panic. But I knew this required some distance from the “punk rock world” I had inhabited. I kept thinking about writing this book and the timing was right.


I wrote...

We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America

By Kevin Mattson,

Book cover of We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America

What is my book about?

Many remember the 1980s as the era of Ronald Reagan, a conservative decade populated by preppies and yuppies dancing to a soundtrack of electronic synth-pop music. In some ways, it was the "MTV generation." However, the decade also produced some of the most creative works of punk culture, from the music of bands like the Minutemen and the Dead Kennedys to avant-garde visual arts, literature, poetry, and film.

In We're Not Here to Entertain, Kevin Mattson documents what Kurt Cobain once called a "punk rock world" --the all-encompassing hardcore-indie culture that incubated his own talent. Mattson shows just how widespread the movement became--ranging across the nation, from D.C. through Ohio and Minnesota to LA--and how democratic it was due to its commitment to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tactics.

Our Band Could Be Your Life

By Michael Azerrad,

Book cover of Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991

A one-of-a-kind book about the wider history of underground music in America in the 1980s, it traces the thread from Black Flag to Nirvana, cataloguing a huge range of vital bands in the process, and documenting many scenes that would otherwise have been lost to obscurity.

Who am I?

My two passions in life are music (especially punk rock) and history, so obviously books about music history really hit the spot for me. As both a fan and a writer / performer, learning about the history of the music I love is very important (not to mention entertaining) for me. Here are some of my favourites.


I wrote...

Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

By Frank Turner,

Book cover of Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

What is my book about?

Taking 36 songs from his back catalogue, folk-punk icon Frank Turner explores his songwriting process. Find out the stories behind the songs forged in the hedonistic years of the mid-2000s North London scene, the ones perfected in Nashville studios, and everything in between. Some of these songs arrive fully-formed, as if they've always been there, some take graft and endless reworking to find 'the one'. In exploring them all, Turner reflects with eloquence, insight, and self-deprecating wit on exactly what it is to be a songwriter.

From love songs and break-up songs to political calls-to-arms; songs composed alone in a hotel room or in soundcheck with the Sleeping Souls, this brilliantly written memoir - featuring exclusive photos of handwritten lyrics and more - is a must-have book for FT fans and anyone curious about how to write music.

England's Dreaming

By Jon Savage,

Book cover of England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond

The original and best record of the initial (British) punk explosion in the 1970s, this is required reading for anyone with any interest in the history of punk. It's thorough, thoughtful, and entertaining in equal measure, a book I've read more than once.

Who am I?

My two passions in life are music (especially punk rock) and history, so obviously books about music history really hit the spot for me. As both a fan and a writer / performer, learning about the history of the music I love is very important (not to mention entertaining) for me. Here are some of my favourites.


I wrote...

Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

By Frank Turner,

Book cover of Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

What is my book about?

Taking 36 songs from his back catalogue, folk-punk icon Frank Turner explores his songwriting process. Find out the stories behind the songs forged in the hedonistic years of the mid-2000s North London scene, the ones perfected in Nashville studios, and everything in between. Some of these songs arrive fully-formed, as if they've always been there, some take graft and endless reworking to find 'the one'. In exploring them all, Turner reflects with eloquence, insight, and self-deprecating wit on exactly what it is to be a songwriter.

From love songs and break-up songs to political calls-to-arms; songs composed alone in a hotel room or in soundcheck with the Sleeping Souls, this brilliantly written memoir - featuring exclusive photos of handwritten lyrics and more - is a must-have book for FT fans and anyone curious about how to write music.

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