Woody Guthrie
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Woody Guthrie

4.31 of 5 stars 4.31  ·  rating details  ·  648 ratings  ·  69 reviews
Perhaps now best known as an acclaimed (and bestselling) author of fiction, Joe Klein has for nearly three decades been one of contemporary journalism's premiere reporters. In "Woody Guthrie: A Life", Klein's signature style of insightful narrative nonfiction brings to life a vivid chapter in the history of American culture.

In 1998, the Woody Guthrie Foundation made public

Paperback, 512 pages
Published February 9th 1999 by Delta (first published 1980)
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WM Rine
This may be the best biography I have ever read. Klein not only untangles the complex man beneath the myth of the traveling man who penned so many indelible American folk songs. He also gives you the tumultuous times in which Guthrie lived in fascinating detail. (He seems to have had a knack for finding himself in places where things weren't peaceful or settled.) From the oil boom towns of Oklahoma and the Texas in the teens, twenties and thirties, to great migration to California during the Dep...more
This biography is stunningly and painfully intimate. Joe Klein did a fantastic job. This is a great read.

Guthrie is a tremendous American icon who not enough of us actually know about or perhaps have even heard of. He was a thousand contradictions. In his art and in his life, in his outrageous, childlike, precocious, brooding, energetic, and endlessly subversive behavior... he was just utterly himself, he embodied a particular American brand of freedom in life, outlook, and sense of possibility....more
This would get 4 1/2 stars if GR had such a thing. It's a fantastic book. Not only did it tell a thorough and complete view of an American icon from birth to death, but it encompassed both his own view of himself and how he was seen by others. And as the best biographies do, it included the culture and society around him in such a way as to give him context and educate the reader. This wasn't *just* a book about Woody Guthrie (who I've decided I really wouldn't like very much at all!), but was A...more
ever since i borrowed/stole my mom's box of springsteen's "live 75/85" and heard the boss stutter out "there's this fellow joe klein who wrote this book called woody guthrie a life and it's, it's a really good book" i wanted to find time for it. and i did, and it was well worth it. frightfully sad at times (particularly after hearing the billy bragg/wilco version of "one by one) and frightfully funny at others, really pretty important to anybody making american music i'd guess.
Utterly essential reading. I've been a fan of the *idea* of Woody Guthrie since I was a kid, but this was the first time I've really sat down and learned about the man. Hooo boy. I'm even more in love with his talent and silliness now, and (for better or worse) much more aware of the myriad tragedies in his life, and how they shaped his work and legacy. A well-written account of a tough life. *Very* well researched and for the most part objective and not reverential.
Jun 06, 2009 Fox rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: PraisinJC, Townes
Recommended to Fox by: Justin Townes Earle
To reduce these truly incredible 512 pages down to one word: Breathtaking.

The scope of this biography was as great as the scope of America itself. Interspersed amongst Joe Klein's detailed historical explanation of the Dust Bowl, the Communist party in America, and the folk-music scene as it evolved from the 30s to the 60s is actual primary text from Woody Guthrie himself.

This book is magnificent in all that it portrays, and not a dull moment exists throughout the pages. Every time I picked this...more
A clear portait of a man, written plainly, even-handedly, and with clear focus on fact without clouding of either mystic or malicious intent. A great example of how to write a biography - evenhanded and when opinion or interpretation is expressed you can tell it is based on the facts found in his research. At times, the writing almost numbs an amazing story. Perhaps thats intentional and for the best, as Mr. Klein often went out of his way to take an understated tone when something either amazin...more
This book is a thoroughly researched, sometimes seemingly fictionalized, and often sentimental narrative of the life of on of America's most interesting characters. Klein follows Woody from small towns in Oklahoma and Texas, to Santa Monica, California; Coney Island, New York; and all points in between. What emerges is a picture of a sensitive and impulsive young man, placed in the position of the "authentic" rambling folk singer from a young age. Woody comes across as clever, but self-deprecati...more
Christian Bauman
It's kind of silly to talk about books changing your life, I guess...especially for those of us who read the way others breathe. How could one breath, no matter how sweet, be remembered 20 years later, and its impact still felt? And yet I remember drawing first breath after holding it in Somalia in 1993 (for example), and I remember everything about Joe Klein's biography of Woody, from where I bought it to how and when I read it the first, second, and third times, how it made me feel. I just bou...more
Aug 14, 2007 Jason rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Folkies
Not only is this the definitive bio of one of the great social and musical figures of the 20th Century, it's also a fascinating, fun, and at times heartbreaking story of a man who refused to live by social conventions, influenced artists like Dylan and Springsteen, and shaped the political and social consciousness of generations that followed. In a way his story is a sort of On the Road meets The Canterbury Tales meets The Communist Manifesto. Rebellious and unapologetic, in possession of a prol...more
An amazing biography that exposes the complexities and ambiguities of a man I previously held on a pedestal. This finely written, detailed biography brings the story of Guthrie to life in searing detail, while also drawing out some of the very complicated issues he faced in balancing his role as a father and a "wandering hobo." I left the book realizing that the portrait that Klein paints, one of a flawed but full life, is profoundly more powerful than the mythic stature that Guthrie took on beg...more
Ties Guthrie into a historical context, putting him into relation with the Depression, Communism, and WWII, but also in a literary/artistic strand, showing relationships with Sandburg, Whitman, A P Carter and others. A real pleasure. What threw me for a loop was the later years. I knew the old story of Bob Dylan visiting him in the hospital, but I had know idea what for. The end of Woody's life was a descent into Huntington's Chorea, a genetic disease (his mom had it too, so he knew it was comin...more
Kim Ruehl
Without question, one of the finest biographies I've ever read. Guthrie was a walking puzzle in his day, and remains as such today. His exquisite talent seemed to have been channeled out of nothing and nowhere, like some magical quality which just drew strangers to his study. Klein does a wonderful job of showing that, though his talent was inexplicable, his personality and motivation were well-formed and fiercely honed.

Anyone interested in American folk music, the way the music of the mid-20th...more
This is pretty much the best book ever. Nonfiction, but it reads like a great, engrossing novel. Joe Klein really seems to understand and love Woody Guthrie, which may sound obvious but is important in making a biography deeply great. Woody's politics and the general politics of the early 1900s really interest me, and this bio goes into those issues--money, poverty, class, farmers, cops, etc. Also, Klein's account of Woody's disease, Huntington's Chorea, grabbed hold of my imagination and hasn't...more
Delana Thompson
Written like a novel, so it's easy to read and entertaining but hard to tell whether the history given is factually true, inferred, or the product of selective memory/invention.

Sad to learn that, while Guthrie's music provided voice and inspiration to the white, working class laborers hardest hit by the Depression, he was also racist, selfish, ignorant, and treated his wife and family poorly. Confirmation from a friend that nothing about this would change in his life caused me to stop reading th...more
This is everything a biography should be - well written, well researched, with a fantastic sense of place and history. This is also a remarkable profile of Huntington's disease. I admired how Klein detailed Woody's struggles but didn't outline the symptoms of this disease until the end of the book. It really helped emphasize how difficult it is to separate Woody and Huntington's - " no way to figure out what he might have done (or who he might have been) without it."

I also appreciated the book'...more
What a cool guy. Woodie Guthrie sort of got swept under the rug by the more mainstream guys of his era, but what he was writing about still needs to be looked at, what he was fighting for is still being fought for, and his whole vibe has a really healthy and appealing quality. The book itself is good, I would also just check out some of the letters Woodie wrote that the Library of Congress has: some of the coolest prose I've ever seen penned by an American
This was a great book. Lots of history through the 20s and the depression years. Woody Guthrie was an amazing man, but he sure had his quirks! I guess the disease was eating away at him. The music and his songs still live on today. This Land is Your Land, what a song, I watched it on U tube with Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen. The book captures that time and the spirit of Woody, despite all his problems, he was a brilliant man!
I thought that I was sick of books about tortured geniuses, but this one proved me wrong. Not only do you get to know Woody Guthrie, the flawed brilliant man, you get to see the world he lived in, which is so different than ours. You read about the rise of unions, the American communist movement, the journey of folk music from obscurity to popularity, the depression, the dust bowl, the okies and much more. I loved this book.
Mark Luongo
Jun 12, 2013 Mark Luongo rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mark by: Bruce Springsteen
Interesting but a bit tedious at times especially towards the end with the discussion about the disease that killed him. You have to read this to understand the strange life this man had. I did not know that "This Land" was originally a Marxist response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Patience is required in order to make it through this book. Got the idea to read this from Peter Ames Carlin's biography, Bruce.
Whether you're a Woody Guthrie fan or not, you'll enjoy this immensely entertaining portrait of the misunderstood Woody Guthrie. His impact on today's music was enormous. He was a wanderer, however, being neither a good husband nor father, preferring to hop trains than settle down. Far too soon, he began to struggle with the symptoms of Huntington's chorea, which finally took his life.
Frank Abrams
Dec 05, 2007 Frank Abrams rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: folkies, trade unionists, communists, historians
Woody Guthrie was a gypsy, a drunk, and a red traitor who supported Hitler until the Politburo told him otherwise...that's when his guitar began to "fight fascism." He none-the-less wrote some of America's greatest folk songs. He also was the primary influence on a young Bobby Dylan. His story is a sad but interesting one. It is a great story of the times in which Woody lived.
David Bird
I am glad that our group reads non-fiction as well as fiction.

Guthrie's life is a view of an American story less often told, which doesn't assume the virtue of capitalism and consumerism. One gets the sense that his non-conformity could be demanding, yet the humanity and wit of his perspective are the dramatic traits that shine through.
Mar 21, 2007 Nick rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: folk singers, pinkos
Shelves: non-fiction
A Life is a big book that offers a comprehensive overview of Woody Guthrie's life. Sadly, most of it's not that interesting. Author Klein fails to weave the wealth of biographical detail into a compelling story. Guthrie mostly comes off as an undeserving dick, a drunk, and a philanderer. But I guess he did write some good songs.

Raegan Butcher
Celebrated bio of commie folk singer Woody Guthrie who died of Huntington's disease, a truly scary affliction. Unfortunately, Guthrie comes across as a little Oakie asshole: Vain, arrogant and politically naive.Not very nice to his wife or kids. Still, anyone who can write "This land is your Land" is a little bit cool.
Stephen Christensen
The best biographies not only tell the story of it's subject but brings to life the world and the times in which the subject lived. No bio I have ever read does so like this one. It is the best biography I have ever read. One could see how not only Woody Guthries music but how his life could be so influential.
A decent book, but way too detailed for me. Some interesting parallel's between today and Woody's early days (living through the Depression, fear of socialism). The stories behind the music are good. Explicit details from love letters to Marjorie (masturbation, fellatio, etc.) are quite unnecessary.
Rheanna doncses
i recieved this book as a xmas present, and was skeptical. But I have to tell you, it became one of my favorites. This is a story about woody, but also his entire family. It is heartbreaking! After you have reaf this book, listen to the billy bragg/ wilco albums based on guthrie songs- you'll be crying!
Maryann Fisher
Fascinating biography of Woody Guthrie. Clearly written and shed light on little known details of Guthrie.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. I was almost in tears at the end. Such a well-researched, well-documented biography yet not a bit dry. I didn't know when I started reading it last week that his birthday was in July. I finished this four days from his birthday, July 14.
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Joe Klein is a longtime Washington, D.C. and New York journalist and columnist, known for his novel Primary Colors, an anonymously written roman à clef portraying Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. Klein is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. Since 2003 he has been a contributor at the current affairs Time news group. In April 2006, he...more
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