Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Words Without Music: A Memoir” as Want to Read:
Words Without Music: A Memoir
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Words Without Music: A Memoir

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,496 ratings  ·  207 reviews
Philip Glass has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet in Words Without Music, his critically acclaimed memoir, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creat ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published May 3rd 2016 by Liveright (first published March 31st 2015)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.08  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,496 ratings  ·  207 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Words Without Music: A Memoir
Barry Pierce
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
My obsession with Philip Glass' music is probably a type of mania. There I am, sitting, just listening to the same couple of notes being played over and over again, sometimes for hours. And I love it.

Glass' memoir thankfully doesn't follow his trademark repetitive style. Instead he has produced a really wonderful account of his life, specifically focussing on his early years. We follow him from childhood, through his early music lessons, to Juilliard, to Paris, to India, and beyond. His sheer d
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is the autobiography of Philip Glass, a world-renowned composer of art music. I have not really appreciated his minimalist style of music, but I truly enjoyed his story. This is a guy who really paid his dues, over and over again, before becoming world-famous. He grew up in Baltimore, and was strongly influenced by the modern music he listened to, in his father's record store. He went to Peabody Institute, University of Chicago, Julliard School of Music, and finally, with a Fullbright ...more
Rob Christopher
Mar 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“If you don’t know what to do, there’s actually a chance of doing something new. As long as you know what you’re doing, nothing much of interest is going to happen.”
– Philip Glass, Words Without Music
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very warm and human-like nice guy (at least on the printed page) who also has a fascinating life, and knows everyone. Philip Glass has not always been my favorite composer, but he has written some of my favorite pieces of music. I love Einstein on the Beach and the "Mishima" soundtrack - and parts of the "Candyman" is great as well. There are misses in his long career, but there are also fantastic albums here and there in his long discography. This memoir is truly interesting, because it deals ...more
“Openings and closings, beginnings and endings. Everything in between passes as quickly as the blink of an eye. An eternity precedes the opening and another, if not the same, follows the closing. Somehow everything that lies in between seems for a moment more vivid.”

I absolutely loved this!

I’ve never considered myself a soundtrack or film score nerd, but it is the music genre that I predominantly listen to: I follow some composers’ work religiously, recognize pieces in an instant, and most o
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: The long-awaited memoir by the world-renowned composer of symphonies, operas and film scores.

'If you go to New York City to study music, you'll end up like your uncle Henry,' Glass's mother warned her incautious and curious nineteen-year-old son. It was the early summer of 1956, and Ida Glass was concerned that her precocious Philip, already a graduate of the University of Chicago, would end up an itinerant musician, playing in vaudeville
Katie Kellert
Apr 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely incredible read. If you're a musician or an aspiring musician, especially if you're a composer, or even if you're none of those things, read this if you want to be inspired and liberated of your notions about fame, art, and life as an artist. Colorful, inspiring, and completely engaging. ...more
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

After watching Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, I was convinced that Philip Glass is an aloof turd. Now I believe he is an aloof turd with a heart.

If you at least know something about any one of the following things, you will probably enjoy Words Without Music: A Memoir:

Philip Glass, music theory/composition, Buddhism, world travel, pretense, yoga, daddy issues, plumbing, vagueness, or NYC in the 60's and 70's.

As a hardcore fan of PG since high school in 1995 (guess who sat at the co

Peter Colclasure
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
A warm, thoughtful, extremely well-written autobiography from one of the greatest living composers. The impression of Philip Glass I get from this book is of a man who is plain spoken, down to earth, and yet sincerely engaged with art, creativity, and spirituality. It's a fine balancing act, to be a relatable, normal genius. Sometimes great artists have raging egos. Not Glass. He comes across as supremely confident, but not arrogant. Creative, but not pretentious. Accomplished, but not conceited ...more
As one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, Philip Glass transformed the landscape of modern music. His work is Renaissance-like in its scope; the breadth of his projects a wide sweep that encompasses Opera, film scores, symphonies, music theatre, concertos, and the list goes on. To call him a musical genius would be easy. What’s not so easy is to track just how much work there is behind the exquisite music he’s given to the world—not some extraordinary inspiration—just hard ya ...more
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
The long-awaited memoir by the world-renowned American composer of symphonies, operas and film scores, Philip Glass
I've always appreciated the work of Philip Glass so it was about time I got to know the man better. Turns out he can be quite obnoxious.

There are moments where I cringed at his massive ego and pretentious attitude. He describes his divorce in one paragraph in the entire book mumbling something about pursuing someone else who leaves him anyway.

But thats ok because he has some great stories to tell regarding his adventures throughout India and Nepal and name drops some impressive artists that he
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Took me 6 weeks to read this memoir but I enjoyed it & feel like I learned so much . . . not really about music, which I remain hopeless about, but Glass had so many other interests that come through in this book: education, New York City, literature, art, theater, travel, yoga, spirituality, etc. And somehow, he seems to have known everyone in those worlds.
A native of Baltimore, went off at age 15 to college at the University of Chicago (back when it had the "Great Books" program of study), t
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Philip Glass is my favourite composer. I have no expertise or formal education in music, nor can I play an instrument. But there is something immediate and intimate that I feel with Glass' music; some kind of natural connection and fascination with it. I feel the same about a lot of minimalist and 20th Century music, but especially with Glass.

This thoughtfully-written autobiography illuminates his life, work and growth as a composer, influenced by the changing world around him and the artists h
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of one's journey as a life-long student of music, art, religion and life. Glass' path to a celebrated composer reinforces Gladwell's "10,000-Hour Rule" to the nth degree. ...more
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got to live with Philip Glass while reading this book and did not want to walk out the door. An amazing unpretentious artist.
Kathy Gardner-Jones
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
When a world renowned composer cleverly titles his memoir “Words Without Music,” it piques your interest. After all, isn’t a composer a storyteller at heart?

Philip Glass certainly is and his memoir is at once both insightful and instructive. He warmly invites us, over the span of 400 pages, to inhabit a wonderfully fluid, curious, and non-traditional mind. In his mid-seventies at publication date, Glass colorfully explains his thought processes as he moved from traditional classic music to an e
Rajesh Kandaswamy
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
While the life of an artist being unusual is not a surprise, I did not expect a leading modern day composer to have spent serious time as a taxi driver, a plumber and as a worker in a steel plant. Glass's story, his focus on his unconventional music and a similar life is a worthwhile read. His prose is measured, and he portrays someone who is in control, keeps things in balance, even while the life he leads might not be the norm. While the story of his life is quite interesting, you get the feel ...more
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, music
A long book but if it's worth the while if you like PG's music. I went to The Hours immediately after finishing the book, just to re-experience the soundtrack once again. It felt so right.

This book reminded me of "Hand to Mouth", a memoir of Paul Auster on how he suffered through his early years as an artist. Based on the book though, PG has handled his situation gracefully by driving a cab for many years. He earned exactly the amount of money he needed to build his music career when nobody wan
Dale Boyer
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is exactly the kind of artist memoir you wish everyone you care about would write. Full of fascinating anecdotes, and a full history of his development, especially of the early days -- the period when, it seems, artists truly find a way to articulate who they are -- this is also a testament to artistic perseverance. For instance, it took Glass TWENTY-TWO YEARS before he was able to really support himself as a musician. Even after Einstein On The Beach had been performed at the Met, he still ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I was very close to quit the book just minutes after I started, I didn't like those back and forwards, most of the contain seemed almost irrelevant. I was so wrong!!! and I fortunately continue until I began to understand the relationship between Phillip growing up and his career as a musician, composer, etc; the way he relates those experiences with his work and how he learned and re learned from the people, masters, teachers he met. I am so glad I finished the book. ...more
This is a very inspiring memoir by one of my favorite composers. It exceeded my expectations. It is inspirational, self-aware, and filled with information about his music. I love how in depth he goes into the making and construction of the following works: The Einstein Trilogy, the Qatsi Trilogy, and the Cocteau Trilogy. My only complaint is that he doesn't go into such detail on more works. Still, I was very happy with this book, and may seek out a print copy for my very own. ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I know everyone is just trying their best, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get over my annoyance with white Buddhist celebrities.
Dec 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
From Baltimore? ✔️
Held tons of part-time jobs while exploring his passions? ✔️
Has great stories about hobnobbing with left-of-center artist folks in the mid 20th century?✔️
A lot to love in this.
This is a completely outstanding memoir by minimalist composer and musician Philip Glass, who wrote the book as he was approaching his 80th birthday. The book is such a combination of inspiring stories: of his growing up in Baltimore, his time at the University of Chicago and Juilliard, his studies with Nadia Boulanger. Did you know that the world-renowned Philip Glass worked as a taxi driver, a plumber, a steelworker, and at assorted other odd jobs to support his family until the age of 41? Onl ...more
Koven Smith
This was...fine, I suppose. For one of my favorite composers, and certainly one of the most important (American) composers of the 20th Century, I was hoping for more. As other reviewers have noted, he doesn't really get into any of the work that everyone knows until well over halfway through the book. Which could be okay, but it doesn't ever feel like he establishes a through line from his early days to the later work that would make learning about his youth valuable. The subject matter and corr ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This memoir was so interesting. The writing is perfectly fine, but his story of how he created original American art is just fascinating. The man paid his dues, he toiled endlessly on his craft, he had the good fortune to be born into a family that valued music and education, and he was clearly gifted. The memoir is long, so yes, there were some sections I would've shaved down, but who cares. I learned a great deal about music, especially composition. But I think what struck me most was that Gla ...more
May 22, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This was a tough one to rate. In a way I was reminded of a book I recently read about Glenn Gould and how I thought that I found his musical gifts far more interesting than his biography. I'm not sure that is completely the case with Philip Glass, in that he seems to have lived quite a full and varied life. Any time he discussed his family back in Baltimore, I found it touching, real and interesting. I particularly liked the fact that he has always been an artist who has no problems doing "non-a ...more
Lorraine York
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I tend to get myself motivated to contribute a goodreads review when I read something that I must absolutely recommend to other readers. Shouldn't be that way, but there we are. In this category, I enthusiastically place Philip Glass's Words Without Music, his 2015 memoir. I've become fascinated by accounts of avant-garde artists working in late '60s early '70s New York, and this memoir makes a distinguished addition to that sub-genre. Glass's memoir is inspiring for its insights into his music, ...more
Vicky Liu
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Beautiful and well told memoir. It was a privilege to see inside the mind of a master in his field. Glass exhibits so much of the growth mindset mentality that I read about in Dweck's Mindset. He is always positive. How many times did he say that he met so and so and he liked him/her immediately. Also so humble. This man did not earn his living solely by being a composer until he was 41. Along the way he was a plumber, taxi driver, artist assistant. Through it all he never complained but saw the ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Madison Mega-Mara...: #49 Words without Music - Philip Glass 2 3 Sep 01, 2017 03:40PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Silence: Lectures and Writings
  • A Year With Swollen Appendices
  • How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers
  • Syntactic Structures
  • The Joy of Music
  • Arnold Schoenberg
  • Rockonomics: A Backstage Tour of What the Music Industry Can Teach Us about Economics and Life
  • Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa
  • Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture
  • Flotation Device: A Charity Anthology
  • Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting
  • Music Habits - The Mental Game of Electronic Music Production: Finish Songs Fast, Beat Procrastination and Find Your Creative Flow
  • The Eighth Tower
  • Fundamentals of Musical Composition
  • A Short History of the United States
  • How the World Works
  • Trans Like Me: A Journey for All of Us
  • Music Composition 2
See similar books…
Philip Glass is a three-time Academy Award-nominated American classical music composer. He is considered one of the most influential composers of the late-20th century and is widely acknowledged as a composer who has brought art music to the public (along with precursors such as Richard Strauss, Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein).

His music is described asminimalist, from which he distanced himself

Related Articles

Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
102 likes · 17 comments
“If you don't know what to do, there's actually a chance of doing something new.” 14 likes
“The point was that the world of music—its language, beauty, and mystery—was already urging itself on me. Some shift had already begun. Music was no longer a metaphor for the real world somewhere out there. It was becoming the opposite. The “out there” stuff was the metaphor and the real part was, and is to this day, the music.” 8 likes
More quotes…