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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (25 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Sean Wilentz Narrator: Sean Wilentz Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2010 ISBN: 9780307714985
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One of America’s finest historians shows us how Bob Dylan, one of the country’s greatest and most enduring artists, still surprises and moves us after all these years.

Growing up in Greenwich Village, Sean Wilentz discov­ered the music of Bob Dylan as a young teenager; almost half a century later, he revisits Dylan’s work with the skills of an eminent American historian as well as the passion of a fan. Drawn in part from Wilentz’s essays as “historian in residence” of Dylan’s official website, Bob Dylan in America is a unique blend of fact, interpretation, and affinity—a book that, much like its subject, shifts gears and changes shape as the occasion warrants.

Beginning with Dylan’s explosion onto the scene in 1961, this book follows him as he continues to develop a body of musical and literary work unique in our cultural history. Wilentz’s approach places Dylan’s music in the context of its time, including the early influences of Popular Front ideology and Beat aesthetics and offers a larger critical appreciation of Dylan as both a song­writer and performer down to the present. Wilentz has had unprecedented access to studio tapes, recording notes, rare photographs, and other materials, all of which allow him to tell Dylan’s story and that of such masterpieces as Blonde on Blonde with an unprecedented authenticity and richness.

Bob Dylan in America—groundbreaking, comprehensive, totally absorbing—is the result of an author and a subject brilliantly met.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Among those who write regularly about Dylan, Wilentz possesses the rare virtues of modesty, nuance, and lucidity, and for that he should be celebrated and treasured....Wilentz is very, very good on the actual music.  In fact, the centerpiece of his book is a vivid look at the 'Blonde on Blonde' sessions, during which the musicians teased and groped their way toward the album's 'thin, wild mercury sound,' in Dylan's famous description. Bruce Handy in The New York Times Book Review
  • "In this often revelatory new study, Wilentz locates Dylan's work in the context of some surprising influences....The greatest gift for Dylan fans, however, is Wilentz's detailed account of the making of 1966's 'Blonde on Blonde'....Unless Dylan himself writes about it in the fabled Chronicles: Volume Two, this is the definitive word on the creation of his greatest album. Andy Green in Rolling Stone
  • Bob Dylan in America, a new biography of the singer-songwriter by distinguished cultural [and] political historian Sean Wilentz, gives an enjoyably thorough, convincing explanation of why Dylan's new music has gone on finding new audiences ever since he burst upon the New York folk scene of the early 1960s, fresh from the iron range of northern Minnesorta and ferociously ambitious for his art. It's an extraordinary, resonant intersection of subject and biographer....Where Wilentz excels is in teasing out the origins of Dylan's artistic impulses, the context in which they arose and flowered, the multiple sources of his art. Tim Rutten in The Los Angeles Times
  • Another book about Bob Dylan!  Is there any more to be said?  The answer is, of course, yes, and who better to say it than Sean Wilentz, a Princeton professor of American history?...What this book finally does -- this is me, not Wilentz -- is establish Dylan as the 20th century's Walt Whitman.  Like Whitman he sings the songs of America in the conviction that they can be said in no other way.  And, like Whitman, he commits himself to travelling the roads of America, looking and remembering.  From the shelves full of Dylan books this and one other -- Christopher Ricks's Dylan's Visions of Sin -- are the ones to read.  This is also one to look at: the pictures are cunningly well chosen. Bryan Appleyard in The Sunday Times (UK)
  • Like many a quirkily brilliant music critic...Mr. Wilentz chooses pet aspects of his subject's career and then invests them with the requisite importance....Mr. Wilentz's vast knowledge of Dylan performances touchingly conveys his nearly lifelong reverence for his subject. Janet Maslin in The New York Times
  • A panoramic vision of Bob Dylan, his music, his shifting place in American culture, from multiple angles. In fact, reading Sean Wilentz’ Bob Dylan in America is as thrilling and surprising as listening to a great Dylan song. Martin Scorsese
  • All the American connections that Wilentz draws to explain the appearance of Dylan’s music are fascinating, particularly at the outset the connection to Aaron Copland. The writing is strong, the thinking is strong – the book is dense and strong everywhere you look. Philip Roth
  • Unlike so many Dylan-writer-wannabes and phony ‘encyclopedia’ compilers, Sean Wilentz makes me feel he was in the room when he chronicles events that I participated in. Finally a breath of fresh words founded in hardcore, intelligent research. Al Kooper
  • "This should have been impossible. Writing about Bob Dylan's music, and fitting it into the great crazy quilt of American culture, Sean Wilentz sews a whole new critical fabric, part history, part close analysis, and all heart. What he writes, as well as anyone ever has, helps us enlarge Dylan's music by reckoning its roots, its influences, its allusive spiritual contours. This isn't Cliff Notes or footnotes or any kind of academic exercise. It's not a critic chinning on the high bar. It's one artist meeting another, kickstarting a dazzling conversation. Jay Cocks, screenwriter for THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and THE GANGS OF NEW YORK
  • Sean Wilentz is one of the few great American historians. His political and social histories of American Democracy are masterful and magisterial. In this work, he turns his attention to the artistic genius of Bob Dylan – and the result is a masterpiece of cultural history that tells us much about who we have been and who we are. Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University
  • Sean Wilentz makes us think about Bob Dylan’s half-century of work in new ways. Combining a scholar’s depth with a sense of mischief appropriate to the subject, Wilentz hears new associations in famous songs and sends us back to listen to Dylan’s less familiar music with fresh insights. By focusing on the parts of Dylan’s canon that most move him, Wilentz gets
    straight to the heart of the matter. If you thought there was nothing new to say about Bob Dylan’s impact on America, this book will make you think twice.
    Bill Flanagan, author of A&R and EVENING’S EMPIRE and Editorial Director, MTV Networks.
  • “Wilentz’s vast knowledge of Dylan performances touchingly conveys his nearly lifelong reverence for his subject.”

    New York Times

  • Sean Wilentz’s beautiful book sets a new standard for the cultural history of popular music in America. He loves the music and he loves America, but his loves do not blind him, they open his eyes. In Wilentz’s erudite and lively account, Dylan’s music, and folk music, and rock music, are all indelibly woven into the whole story of an entire country. This book is chocked with new contexts for old pleasures. There are surprises and illuminations on almost every page. A great historian has written a history of the culture that formed him. Like Dylan, Wilentz is a deep and probing American voice. Bob Dylan’s America is Bob Dylan’s good luck, and ours. It is an extraordinary affirmation of singing and strumming and feeling and learning and believing. Leon Wieseltier
  • “Among those who write regularly about Dylan, Wilentz possesses the rare virtues of modesty, nuance, and lucidity, and….Wilentz is very, very good on the actual music.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “What this book finally does…is establish Dylan as the twentieth century’s Walt Whitman.”

    Sunday Times (London)

  • “Wilentz locates Dylan’s work in the context of some surprising influences…The greatest gift for Dylan fans, however, is Wilentz’s detailed account of the making of 1966’s ‘Blonde on Blonde.’”

    Rolling Stone

  • “An enjoyably thorough, convincing explanation of why Dylan’s new music has gone on finding new audiences…Where Wilentz excels is in teasing out the origins of Dylan’s artistic impulses, the context in which they arose and flowered, the multiple sources of his art.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “Wilentz’s cool tenor never ceases to assure the listener that he’s highly engaged with his subject matter, and the production is further enhanced by the inclusion of several snippets of actual Dylan music.”

    AudioFile

  • A New York Times Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jack Waters | 2/14/2014

    " I learned more about history than Dylan, but I knew that going in to this book. Wilentz is a historian, so I could only read this in small sections at a time. It is well-written; I'm just a fiction nut. There is much to be read re: Dylan, and this book is worth the time for any Dylanphiles out there. Wilentz frames the history that molded and influenced Dylan. I especially liked the section on Blind Wille McTell. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Charity | 2/8/2014

    " Wilentz over writes throughout the book and bogs down the prose with too much information that he puts forth but does not ever fully connect, which leads to rambling. And a sense that he (and only he) is the foremost expert/critic/historian on Dylan. Perhaps if he were able to shelve his idolatry of Dylan his cause would be helped. (400 pages, pfffft, 335 really, lots and lots of bibliography type pages) "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lucas | 1/28/2014

    " A very carefully researched trip into Dylan's influences and his cultural importance. I thought some of the sections picking apart chordal structures and harmonies were dry but overall I thought it was a great book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Dennis | 1/23/2014

    " Another book about Bob Dylan?! This one, however, spends much of its time analyzing a number of his songs and revealing the wide variety of sources he drew from. I enjoyed much of this but it was frustrating not having access to many of the rare and obscure blues and folk tunes that were discussed (I kept thinking this would work better as a textbook in a classroom setting). Also, the author makes quite a few assumptions, which might be surprising since Sean Wilentz has close connections to Dylan's people (he was asked to write for Dylan's website and added the liner notes to one his official bootleg CDs). I'm assuming he tried to get to the source but Dylan most likely was not cooperating... "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Kiof | 1/23/2014

    " move over while the reagan scholar historifies 'desolation row' for ya; ?!? How did he get all these names to endorse it....a dare of some kind? A least it's pretty obvious that Roth just skimmed it. It has some interesting view points though, almost none of which i think entered dylans mind, past, present or future. This guy wears a bow tie right? He must. He's probably a nice guy, Mr. Wilentz. I just heard some much hype and then got a chance to sit down with it for a long while and it was bewildering. But not excting, Martin. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John Arnette | 1/14/2014

    " Absolutely fantastic history of Bob Dylan and the roots of much of American Music:) There is so much good music in this book, my personal collection has defenitly been enhanced:) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ho | 1/8/2014

    " EXCELLENT HISTORY OF AMERICA'S MOST ENIGMATIC AND INFLUENTIAL POET-SONG WRITERS. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kerryadixon | 12/26/2013

    " Most recent book I read. I partly did not want to know "everything" about Robert Zimmerman, because I wanted to keep him super-human. However, his musical and literary influences were incredible. I now know about Blind Willie McTell's music and others. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mary | 11/23/2013

    " Loved this biography that places Dylan in context with American history, poetry, and music. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Dave Beebe | 10/24/2013

    " Easily the best book on Dylan I've read not written by the man himself. Highly informative and packed with cultural and historical roots to basically every musical venture Bob Dylan has made. Near-perfect. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Andy | 9/25/2013

    " Wilentz, an actual historian, puts Dylan within multiple historical and cultural contexts, and the result is real insight. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Dave | 7/25/2013

    " An okay biography about Dylam "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jana | 7/24/2013

    " I'm currently on a Dylan odyssey. Saw him this Labor Day. This book was very enjoyable. It is SO full of information that there is no way to retain a fraction of it. But I have even more appreciation for his amazing talent. He is way more than a gravelly voice! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ann Porter | 7/12/2013

    " This book was amazing. It was interesting, informative, entertaining, and left me smarter than it found me. Brilliantly ties Dylan in to American 20th century music - the opening chapter is about Aaron Copeland! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Timothyarnold1973 | 1/19/2013

    " Perhaps a bit esoteric for the casual Dylan fan, which is what I consider myself. Still, one can't help but admire Wilentz's skill and and ability to draw connections between Dylan (man and music) and a larger cultural history. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Leigh | 11/28/2012

    " I would have gotten more out of this book if I know Dylan's music better than I do. Made me realize how much more I need to get acquainted w/ it even tho I know quite a few of his songs. This book is best for serious Dylan fans. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mike | 7/22/2011

    " i found this book absolutely fascinating, if a little too exhaustive in parts. definitely only for the truest of true believers. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 kho | 5/2/2011

    " Had to read this for class. I still don't like learning about people in this way, but Wilentz is a wonderful historian and writer. He doesn't confuse readers and separates memory from fact nicely. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Adam | 4/19/2011

    " Drifts between history, uncritical musical criticism and thoughtful analysis of the man himself. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ed | 3/21/2011

    " Just finished this last night. Truly excellent. Puts Dylan in context of American culture. Not a true biography, per se, but rather an examination of the man's life and art against the backdrop of evolving American society writ large. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bernie | 2/27/2011

    " Excellent. Solid analysis of Dylan's work. Best read with a copy of Lyrics "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tom | 1/30/2011

    " Awesome..finally a real historian and Bob! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mary | 1/29/2011

    " Loved this biography that places Dylan in context with American history, poetry, and music. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Eamonn | 1/16/2011

    " I learned a lot about American cultural history from this fine book. Wilentz situates Dylan very firmly in the traditions and culture of his country. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Karin | 1/9/2011

    " I am really enjoying this so far... "

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About the Author

Sean Wilentz is a professor of American history at Princeton University. He is the author of The Age of Reagan and The Rise of American Democracy, which received the coveted Bancroft Prize. The historian-in-residence for Bob Dylan’s official Website, he has also received a Deems Taylor Award for musical commentary and a Grammy nomination for his liner notes to Bootleg Series, Vol. 6: Bob Dylan, Live 1964: The Concert at Philharmonic Hall.