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Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music - The Definitive Life

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  314 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
In his commanding new book, the eminent NPR critic Tim Riley takes us on the remarkable journey that brought a Liverpool art student from a disastrous childhood to the highest realms of fame.

Riley portrays Lennon's rise from Hamburg's red light district to Britain's Royal Variety Show; from the charmed naivet? of "Love Me Do" to the soaring ambivalence of "Don't Let Me Dow
Kindle Edition, 784 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Hyperion (first published December 1st 2010)
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Lakis Fourouklas
John Lennon has always been one of my favorite musicians. I’ve been listening to his songs since I remember myself listening to music and I’ve always thought him to be a man who during his life, apart from his art, did nothing more than keep searching to find a destination, where he really wanted to be. Whether what he really wanted to do was change the world through his music, become the main spokesperson for the peace movement or just a stay at home dad, I could not really say; not until now.
Oct 18, 2011 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

About as solid a bio as I can imagine. Lennon was a weird guy, and after reading a bit about his upbringing it's not hard to see why.

I'd like to know more about Yoko Ono's heroin habit.

Very strong on the early Beatles in Germany.

Out of curiosity, and inspired by the account in the book, I found a YouTube clip of John and Yoko playing with Chuck Berry on the Mike Douglas Show ca. 1072. There's a highly comical moment when Yoko starts her patented caterwauling during the break on "Memphis." The l
Hannah Lockhart
Incredibly detailed and well-researched. I'm always torn between Harrison and Lennon as my favourite Beatle. Lennon is more interesting to me perhaps because he is more controversial so I was curious to read a biography of his life. I kind of already knew the story of Lennon's life from documentaries but this gave some nice detail on his early beginnings. I didn't realise the extent of his childhood trauma and how this subsequently intertwined with his later life and fame.

The book discusses a l
Fred Garnett
Jul 10, 2012 Fred Garnett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific book by the music journalist Tim Riley on Lennon. Particularly good on Beatles music, as you'd expect from the author of Tell Me Why and insightful in the manner of Kenneth Womack (Please Please Me sounded less like a follow up to Love Me Do that a career fuse being lit). Unlike Philip Norman he didnt have Yoko's backing and so is free to focus on what he wishes to, which is Lennon's music- making. Having read Norman's book on Lennon I didnt think there could be a more thorough work on ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Riley breaks from a lot of the traditional lore about Lennon and judges everything for himself. I didn't always agree, but he made me question some of my assumptions. Lennon comes across in this book as very complex, with many demons and also a sincere drive to better himself. One really funny scene: an LSD-wired Lennon calls a Beatles meeting to announce that he is the resurrected Jesus Christ. The rest of the band kind of nods and lets it go. He never brings it up again. Riley also has indepen ...more
Brent Wilson
Oct 04, 2012 Brent Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pop-culture
I was so moved by his difficult life-

I kept talking to people about it, who have no interest at all. Embarrassing at times.

And he was such a broken, all-too-human being. I'm glad he found some kind of peace in a second family with Yoko and Sean. I can understand why he clung to that family and made things work. He had never had people stay with him and give him security.

I was gratified to learn more of Cynthia Lennon, his first wife. She sounds amazing in her own way - so liberal in her sympathi
this was a real let down i wanted JOHN, but you had to search thru all this other stuff to get the John info. also i didnt like they way he kept referring to him as 'Lennon'. ok yeah i know thats his name but it was like he was a 'thing' like a cultural item, not a person. Philip Norman's john lennon the life is far better. although i did agree with some stuff - he says everyone ragged on yoko until paul married heather -then paul copped it. this is true. heather/paul was a car crash. also he me ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It takes perseverance to get through a 700+-page nonfiction book, but this one is worth it, at least for fans of John Lennon's music. Riley’s book is loaded with information, not just about Lennon and the other Beatles but about the times he lived in and the places where he lived. He gives a whole history of rock ‘n roll, linking Lennon’s work back to the musicians who inspired it and ahead to the ones who followed. He offers details behind every song and every album, how it was written, how it ...more
Dec 07, 2011 Jeff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't read this all the way through. It was well researched but also included critical notes on each album starting with the Beatles. Too detailed for me.
Brooke Hundley
Jul 07, 2012 Brooke Hundley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very amazing book! It has just about every detail of John's life and is extremely long but if you're a huge Lennon fan like me, you'll really enjoy it and I would really suggest reading it.
Jan 03, 2012 Dean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent all encompassing biography of the musical legend John Lennon. A very enjoying read.
Kate S
Feb 01, 2017 Kate S rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2017
This was a very long biography that dealt with far more than the main focus and took us down long winding paths. It was well-researched and I learned more than I needed (wanted?).
Matt Isenhower
Well, not quite definitive. Philip Norman's 2008 John Lennon: The Life still holds that rank. I suppose new biographies of fascinating people will always be produced, but we're dealing with some well-trodden ground here. Several major "event" bios of Lennon are out there, beginning with Ray Coleman's somewhat hodge-podge and unfocused Lennon, a hero-worshipping whitewash released at the height of John's martyrdom in 1984. This was followed in 1988 by the opposite extreme, the widely despised The ...more
Dave Schwensen
Jul 16, 2013 Dave Schwensen rated it really liked it
This book has a lot of information. It also carries a little too much of the author’s personal critique and dissection about Lennon’s music and what was going on in his head while writing the songs the songs. I had a difficult time dealing with that since I doubt even Yoko Ono knew everything that was going on in his head.

I really debated giving this book four or five stars. It deserves both, so I’ll actually give it four and a half. The research the author did in putting together this massive n
Jun 11, 2012 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always been a fan of The Beatles, but I never got into much biographical info about the band until last year, when I watched the Scorsese film about George Harrison. This book had me adoring John part of the time and hating his guts the rest of the time. He seems like a pretty complex personality, so maybe that is only fitting.

First the adoration. John was obviously an amazing artist. I enjoyed learning about the beginnings of the band, how their image was re-worked to sell records (ditch
May 30, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies, beatles
First off; good book. I enjoyed it.

Next, if you're thinking of picking this one up and hoping for another tale of Lennon Hero Worship... forget it. While Riley is definitely a fan and has admiration for Lennon, he does not grovel at Lennon's altar.

The book spends a considerable number of pages in Hamburg, which I was delighted to read. But it also provides some details on Lennon's life prior to The Beatles taking off, examining the differences between his real mother, Julia and his Aunt Mimi, wh
Jan 29, 2012 Ad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
tim riley is very good at anaylizing songs and how they`re put together which i love about this book. the short comming of this book to me is the writing will be going along in a very good flow and then a wrench seems to be thrown in because of language use loses it rythmn and tries to get overally intellectualized. John lennon`s story is so intriguing and then ends so tragically just as he appeared to be getting his life together. As a by product of the details in his life you learn much about ...more
Oct 17, 2015 Hal rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There has been so much written on the life of John Lennon and I finally got around to reading one of them. Tim Riley seemed to put together a pretty good portrait of the man and his remarkable life. There is no doubt Lennon was a creative genius and along with that came the baggage of the genius\artist. No doubt most of his personal struggles in life came from his strange rearing and experiences. He gave us much to ponder and question in life and like a lot of people wrestled with the demons tha ...more
Jan 02, 2012 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
Riley's biography of John Lennon is very detailed and comprehensive. I've read several other books on Lennon and the Beatles, yet I learned a great deal from Riley's meticulous work. He presents a clear and honest portrait of Lennon's strengths and weaknesses, but he never stoops to the "gossipy" tone found in so many other books about rock stars. The book mixes biography and music criticism, which is natural given Riley's background as a musician and scholar. I can see how some readers might fi ...more
Jan 29, 2012 Brent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ken McCarson
Recommended to Brent by: J. M. DeMatteis
I really enjoy Riley's musical analysis, as in his earlier, 1980s Beatles criticism in Tell Me Why. Tim Riley It's especially interesting to compare with Philip Norman's Lennon biography from three years ago. They cover the same ground with differing emphases. Norman tells the story with admirable attention to the incidents at the roots of Beatles songs, yet includes no source notes, only citation within the narrative. Riley cites Norman and other writers where appropriate, cuts McCartney's sent ...more
Jul 15, 2016 Fred rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tony Nielsen
It hurts a bit to realise that John Lennon was quite often an asshole, but I already knew that. This really is an excellent biography actually, especially for a Beatles nut like myself. Even though it doesn't bring a lot more to the table than Phillip Norman's treatise of a few years ago.
To counter the criticism of some of his less desirable traits this book does lay the foundation of exploring his own dysfunctional family and fraught relationship especially with his mother Julia. Other than tha
Aug 09, 2013 Whitford rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed and frankly surprised that so many rate this book highly. There are numerous errors that are repeated several times (identifying Badfinger as a Scottish group indicates poor editing or lazy scholarship.) In addition, there is some bizarre analysis and tenuous subjective commentary; Reilly must be the only Beatle fan in the world to rate Paul's 'That Means A Lot' as a lost Beatles classic. If you're after a Lennon biography the Philip Norman book is much better; it is better wr ...more
Sam Motes
Feb 28, 2016 Sam Motes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a brutal honest look at the life and times of Lennon. It covers all the impact he had on the music industry and touched fans via the Beatles and in his solo career and a very deep level. The stories behind the relationships of the band members and the amazing body of work they built together and as individuals was enlightening. His legal and political battles are covered as well. At times I found myself loving Lennon for his passion in the music and stances on political issues and others ...more
Merja Pohjola
Jul 11, 2012 Merja Pohjola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very thorough, quite fair IMO both in good and in bad; shows Lennon was a human being with his strengths and weaknesses, and so was Yoko, Paul, etc... Doesn't take sides, but introduces different theories and let's the reader make up their own mind, which is rare in biographies. Usually the author just chooses one theory and goes with that. This is how I would like all bios to be written. Professionally, avoid of stupid gossip (leaves out the most outrageous stories I have heard and that have no ...more
Marjorie Kehe
Aug 28, 2011 Marjorie Kehe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tim Riley has read absolutely everything that there is to read about John Lennon – and talked to as many sources as he could – and has done so very thoughtfully. The result is a very balanced biography that manages to be fair to all the players involved – John himself, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Cynthia Lennon, etc. The book is long and thorough so it's not for those looking for a quick hit. But if you'd like a realistic, balanced account of the life of a superstar who is some ways will always re ...more
Aaron Badgley
This is the best book on John Lennon I have ever read. I learned new facts, but more importantly, Tim Riley does not lean on only one source and is not afraid to present differing views of an event. He also puts everything in context. The Beatles and Lennon did not exist in a vaccuum, and Riley makes that clear. It is well written and does not shy away from Lennon's flaws. It is a brilliant book.
Mar 29, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent book on the early life of John Lennon. You really got a feel for how he was raised, and lived as a youngster. It started to get shakey for me around the time of "Rubber Soul". From this point on, the author felt the need to give his interpretation of Lennon's lyrics, and reviewed his work. I'm always more interested in facts than the authors opinion of his subjects work. Overall, it was an enjoyable read tho. John Lennon is a great subject.
Nov 19, 2011 Brenda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustive (sometimes exhausting) life of Lennon. Early years were presented with a little different perspective of mom, Julia. Aunt Mimi was fairly kicked around a bit for her stifling attitudes. Much of the biography centered around the music, which for this author was the most important element to define.
Nov 30, 2011 Kiof rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Has some great insights into the man's personality, but a wagon wheel falls off around 1970. For all his insight, Riley really doesn't get what the Plastic Ono Band album means, which was always one of the simplest of John's works for me to understand. Riley assumes the album is a lot more ironic than it is, when it's nearly irony-free.
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NPR CRITIC, AUTHOR, PIANIST, and SPEAKER TIM RILEY reviews pop and classical music for NPR's HERE AND NOW, and has written for the HUFFINGTON POST, THE WASHINGTON POST, SLATE.COM and SALON.COM. He was trained as a classical pianist at Oberlin and Eastman, and remains among the few critics who writes about both "high" and "low" culture and their overlapping concerns.

Brown University sponsored Rile
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“As usual, Ringo Starr uttered the best break-up quote: “This is all news to me.” 2 likes
“There was a Ringo album coming down the pike, and a reunion, at least by the three of them (Harrison, Lennon, and Starr), that was all planned out. That was going to be Lennon’s next move after the world tour,” Douglas continues. “He talked fondly about McCartney every night, and he always wanted to redo certain Beatles songs, but he really spoke more like he really loved those guys. The only person that he was pissed at was George, because George put out this memoir [I Me Mine] and John was really, really pissed about that. I remember him saying, ‘How do you write about your life and not talk about the guy whose band you were in?” 2 likes
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