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Woody Guthrie: A Life

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,050 Ratings  ·  82 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

Published January 18th 1989 by Faber & Faber (first published 1980)
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May 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-politics
Beautifully wrought story of the amazing life of Woody Guthrie, America's bard. Klein has done a superb job of bringing out all the prickly complexity of Woody's character as well as his incredible talent. Very highly recommended.
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Too many biographies of music artists suffer from an over-reliance on quoted secondary sources, yielding books that don't feel "authored" because they lack a consistent narrative voice. I've put many such books aside in frustration over their prolific and unselective use of quotes that tend to vary wildly in tone, insight, and reliability.

This book is different. It was published in 1980, when Woody (who died in 1967) would have been just 68, and most of the people who had known him well were st
Dec 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an epic. Woody Guthrie's life was something of an epic, too, but the book is so clearly based on what could be learned from written correspondence and Woody's own book that, particularly during his adult life, it can read more like a literary analysis or psychological profile based on writing samples than a biography.

Woody famously came from the Oklahoma dust bowl and roamed and rambled as a folksinger through the early-to-mid Twentieth Century. In his travels, he picked up an abidi
May 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: PraisinJC, Townes
Recommended to Hilary 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
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
Kim Ruehl
May 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
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
WM Rine
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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