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Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  738 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
Greil Marcus saw Bob Dylan for the first time in a New Jersey field in 1963. He didn't know the name of the scruffy singer who had a bit part in a Joan Baez concert, but he knew his performance was unique. So began a dedicated and enduring relationship between America's finest critic of popular music— "simply peerless," in Nick Hornby's words, "not only as a rock writer bu ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 4th 2006 by PublicAffairs (first published April 1st 2005)
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Please Kill Me by Legs McNeilChronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob DylanLove Is a Mix Tape by Rob SheffieldOur Band Could Be Your Life by Michael AzerradJust Kids by Patti Smith
Best Non Fiction About Music
186th out of 910 books — 847 voters
Chronicles by Bob DylanYounger Than That Now by Jim EllisonThe Old, Weird America by Greil MarcusRevolution in the Air by Clinton HeylinA Freewheelin' Time by Suze Rotolo
Books about Bob Dylan
24th out of 59 books — 20 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,230)
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Feb 02, 2008 Rick rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Pomposity reigns and if there are a set of Rock Criticism rules akin to the literary rules that James Fenimore Cooper violated so blithely to Mark Twain's delight, Marcus violates them all. Instead of research, he remembers. Instead of logic and measured insights, he flushes clichés, random associations, second person generalizations, and just plain old fashioned bullshit. “Dylan singing like William and Versey Smith chanting their version of the Titantic on the street in Chicago in 1927 and eve ...more
Ted Burke
Apr 12, 2009 Ted Burke rated it did not like it
Greil Marcus has made his name as rock critic by insisting that the tide of History is directly mirrored by the pop music of the period. This can make for exhilarating reading, because Marcus is, if nothing else, an elegant stylist given to lyric evocation, but it is the same elegance that disguises the fact that he comes across a middling Hegelian; the author, amid the declarations about Dylan, The Stones, The Band and their importance to the spontaneous mass revolts of the Sixties, never solid ...more
Mar 07, 2010 Cari rated it liked it
Making up for what it lacks in clear narrative with an unabashed fanboy mentality, Like a Rolling Stone... is one of those books that you can pick up and put down at will. None of the segments are very long, and there's no overwhelming need to keep reading. It's light and spends a lot of time rambling and flailing with Dylan adoration, but there are some gems among the essays. Though the ability to put it down and walk away probably leads to a large portion of the readership never returning, thi ...more
Sep 13, 2016 Graham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sure, it's pretentious as all hell. Sure, there isn't a central thesis. I don't much care.

John Updike once said of Vladimir Nabokov that "He writes prose the only way it should be written: ecstatically." The same adverb comes to mind when reading this book—Greil Marcus' attempt to grasp just what makes Bob Dylan in general, and "Like a Rolling Stone" in particular, so great. Marcus may be an esteemed literary and musical critic, but he is before all else a Bob Dylan fan, and this enthusiasm show
Mar 13, 2008 C.E. rated it really liked it
Greil Marcus returns to one of his favorite subjects, Bob Dylan.

This time he takes on "Like a Rolling Stone," which he apparently considers as Dylan's masterstroke and probably the greatest song in Rock and Roll history.

Those unitiated to Marcus' work are warned against expecting a straightforward narrative. This is NOT a book for those with a casual interest. Instead, Marcus, in keeping with his usual method, writes for PhD's who live in record stores, delivering a rambling metaphysical analysi
Aug 10, 2009 Mateo rated it did not like it
One stroll through the music section of any bookstore immediately brings to mind one question: Why are there so many freaking books on Bob Dylan? Why are there entire bookshelves devoted to this man and so few about other poets? Why are people not penning books about John Greenleaf Whittier?

(One answer: because Bob Dylan, in addition to having written some of the most astonishing songs in pop history, is the most astute and relentless self-mythologizer since his friend and mentor Johnny Cash; by

I list this under biography because it's the biography of a song. Marcus does what he does best here- his usual style is to start from a moment or a text (a novel or a song or a film, etc) and to then weave outward, building contexts and insights, paradoxes and symbols and so forth until the first instance of interpretation is now encompassing so much more than what was begun.

If this sounds like something which interests you, if you like the idea of art (using the word inclusively here) critici
Mar 20, 2012 York rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Me compré la edición en español de este gran libro. Está hermoso, la traducción de Like a Rolling Stone apesta, pero el texto y el cuidado en el diseño de la edición vale cada centavo.

19 de Marzo de 2012: Tras la noticia (que ahorita sigue siendo rumor) de que Dylan regresa a México para principios de mayo, me puse ass on fire y con la calentura me volví a aventar éste libro, en dos noches. Greil Marcus es probablemente el mejor cronista roquero ever.
Well this book was not quite what I expected. I thought it was going to be a biography of Dylan but instead it was a somewhat pretentious narrative of how "Like a Rolling Stone" came to be and how it is probably the greatest rock song ever! Not sure if I totally agree with that even though I do like the song and Bob Dylan's work. The book doesn't go into hardly any details of Dylan's life but it does have some good background on Dylan influences such as Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. It also t ...more
Corey Preston
Dec 26, 2012 Corey Preston rated it liked it
Repetitive, over the top, meandering, thin, pompous--but despite all that, it just grew on me. I was more engaged in the end, the opposite of, say, Michael Gray's massive beaten dead horses...
Jan 08, 2014 Drewdeboy rated it liked it
Stream of consciousness cultural examination of Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone". As a late convert to Dylan (didn't really get into any of his records till age 22), I appreciated the discussion about the gunshot through popular culture that this six-minute single was. Also fascinated by some of the studio decisions and the session descriptions in the Epilogue. The meat of the text sometimes lagged when Marcus lost his point in a swirl of rabbit-holing riffs on culture, history, and myth. I still ...more
Jag läste nyligen en biografi om Dylans 1960-tal och tiden runt ”Like a Rolling Stone” (1965). Det var en enormt framgångsrik låt, och är fortfarande i dag nästan 50 år senare, som på många sätt formade Dylans karriär. Det var däremot en rätt så kontroversiell låt för sin tid som vi fortfarande i dag inte vet vad den e g e n t l i g e n handlar om. Då låten släpptes trodde många faktiskt att Dylan ville gå med i the Stones med tanke på titeln och att låten var en hyllning till bandet. I Like a R ...more
Sep 15, 2007 Jake rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Dylan or Pet Shop Boys fans
Shelves: music
Marcus does something unique in 'Like a Rolling Stone'. He sets out to write the history of a song and its importance to a culture. For the most part it is a successful endevour.

The factual history alone is fascinating. Using the studio tapes he does a terrific job in evoking the scene at the studio that resulting in the one-of-a-kind recording.

He is less successful in discussing the cultural ramifications of the song. Mostly he comes off the rails when he compares it to other songs in terms o
Mar 11, 2009 Matt rated it really liked it
I read this book in a couple of hours. I never tire of Marcus, or reading about Dylan, so it was a treat. It's easy to forget these days just what a departure "Like a Rolling Stone" was for its time. Even as a Dylan fan, I don't really feel the need to play the song that much, but this outstanding analysis of every single aspect of the song urged me to listen with new ears. Marcus is a great rock writer in that he urges the reader to listen with his same level of enthusiasm and engagement. His w ...more
Aug 29, 2014 David rated it it was ok
Yes, a book about a song. Three pages about that first drum beat. The word "verbose" comes to mind. Some of the best parts are in the footnotes and the epilogue. Like they sing about enjoying Stephen Sondheim: You have to be "into the words" (of the book). The author certainly is. The Reader's Digest version: Dylan was a great songwriter/poet. Everyone else writes jingles.
Nov 07, 2007 Wendy rated it really liked it
Shelves: essay
One of the few subjects less interesting to me than the history of rock and roll would be the history of one particular rock and roll song. The fact that I found this book engrossing is testament to Marcus’ skill. Being the pop culture illiterate that I am, I’d never before read even an essay by him before picking up this book. Boy, does this guy how knows how to turn a sentence, even one with a clause in the middle of it that contains its own sentence, or two:

"Singing in a voice as clear as wa
Oct 26, 2014 Katy rated it really liked it
If you want a straightforward thesis or narrative, you will be disappointed. But if you want a book that reminds you of being in the middle of rambling music discussions with your similarly music-obsessed friends, you're in luck. Is Bobby Gregg's snare drum open the greatest open in music history? Is the "someone left the cake out in the rain" lyric from MacArthur Park a homage to this song? Was Allan Ginsburg the Mystery Tramp, or was it Philip Roth? Did Bob Dylan influence Leonard Cohen more o ...more
Huguette Larochelle
Feb 24, 2016 Huguette Larochelle rated it it was ok
the best in the book is evoking the scene at the studio ,how the song came together ,like a rolling stone,now i have to find a book about Bob Dylan ,i thought it was going to be a book about him but that was the entire book for the song. the songs is the top of 500 best songs ever.
Martin Raybould
Sep 26, 2015 Martin Raybould rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of a song as a musical and cultural event. Marcus' writing here is genuinely illuminating. Just when you think you know all there is to know about this point in Bob Dylan's career, he shows that there is always another angle to consider.
Oct 18, 2014 Daniel rated it it was ok
Marcus is a classic rock writer, and "Like A Rolling Stone" is a classic of rock music. But perhaps an entire book is just too much to expect these two classics. Some of this book is thoughtful and insightful; a whole lot of it is overblown stretching. Proof? He compares the song to a Pet Shop Boys' cover of a Village People song.
James G.
Jul 05, 2013 James G. rated it really liked it
I really like Greil Marcus' writing and i think it is really important that we find room in our society now to have long-play books at are derived singularly from one song, that can unfold it's composition, recording, playing and legacy across chapters that begin and end feeling like a going in and out of sleep. One of my main take aways is how sloppy Dylan's mini-symphonies were in their conception. Marcus describes studio sessions that feel like they are constantly falling apart, and I am not ...more
Jan 28, 2011 Josh rated it liked it
Shelves: music
In truth, I would be pretty fascinated by nearly anything written about Bob Dylan-- but the extent to which this rambling book is really ABOUT Bob Dylan is questionable. Look, I know Greil Marcus is one of the most renowned music critics of all time, but I just find his meandering style to be insufferable sometimes, and I feel like this book is less an exploration of the various cultural connections to "Like a Rolling Stone" than a sort of personal flight of intellectual fancy. There are plenty ...more
Apr 10, 2016 Y C added it
A book worthy of the song worthy of a book.
Seán McNamara
Jan 01, 2015 Seán McNamara rated it really liked it
The story of Dylan's epic Like a Rolling Stone.
Bastian Greshake
Jan 04, 2013 Bastian Greshake rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I love the song and hoped to learn some more about its backstory. Unfortunately the author just goes on and on on how great the song is. And not even in a very convincing or interesting way (if the choir isn't convinced by your preaching you most certainly are doing it wrong...). If you want to learn more about Like a Rolling Stone go the Wikipedia which contains like 99% of all the facts given in the book. If you want to learn why the song is awesome: Just wait, some preachy fan will probably t ...more
Oct 26, 2012 Ronn rated it it was ok
It's not that Greil Marcus isnt a fine writer; he certainly is. And it's not like I dont care for the subject matter. But it has occurred to me that most of what I've read by Mr Marcus has been either magazine articles, or books that were collections of article length pieces. So either Mr Marcus should perhaps stick to writing article length pieces, or I should stick to reading Mr Marcus' article length pieces. But his style of writing for a single-subject book was a little too much for me. I do ...more
Derek Ambrose
Mar 24, 2013 Derek Ambrose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 52-in-2013
Read this one Sunday afternoon. The book is, as Marcus defines the song itself, a flash in the pan of fortunate chaos. If you're expecting a bar by bar analysis or an exhaustive review of each take look elsewhere. Instead Marcus talks about the genesis, development, release and death of the song. Along the way he relates stories from early Dylan up to Time Out of Mind (calling Highlands the only song close in ideal to LaRS). If you liked Marcus's previous books you will love this.
Aug 24, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
An in-depth and nuanced look at one of the great rock and roll songs of all time. This is a stunning and informative book.
Guillermo Carvajal
Jan 17, 2016 Guillermo Carvajal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, favorites
Te guste o no Greil Marcus, el libro es como una metafora poetica, y como tal debe ser leido. En momentos agobiante por la intensidad de las palabras, dificil por las imagenes que compone, pero siempre delicioso, igual que saborear un poema de Rimbaud.
Pero si no eres fan acérrimo de Dylan es posible que te aburra bastante. Sobre todo recomiendo escuchar atentamente, antes de leer el libro, el Highway 61 Revisited y el Bringing it all back home completos, por lo menos.
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Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train (1975), Lipstick Traces (1989), The Shape of Things to Come (2006), When that Rough God Goes Riding and Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus (both 2010), and other books. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America (2009). In recent years he has taught at Berkeley, Princeton, Minnesota, NYU, and the New School in New York. He lives in ...more
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