Sean Wilentz’s new work, Bob Dylan in America, is a fascinating hybrid of a book. Combining biography, history, literary criticism, and music criticism while using significant events in Dylan’s career as jumping-off points, the book is one of the more interesting and enjoyable in the library Dylan’s life and work has inspired. There’s good commentary here about the book at the fine Dylan-centric blog RightWingBob.com.
“I greatly enjoyed my reading of it and I think that it belongs in the top tier of books on Bob Dylan, as I rate them, because it is that kind which can expand and enhance one’s enjoyment of his music, rather than merely passing the time or weighing you down with trivia. It’s also well known that critics and biographers can sometimes come to hate their subject, even if they came in at the start with interest and affection. Anyone looking for some kind of cynical or demeaning take on Bob, however, will be disappointed by Wilentz’s book.
In some places it’s being called a biography, but it isn’t really; or if it is, it’s the better type of biography to do of an artist, and that is one which focuses on his or her work, and only reflects on events-in-the-life where they are pretty obviously relevant to the art. But in any case Wilentz’s goal is clearly not to be so comprehensive, or to say the last word on anything. His look at Dylan is at a cross-section of Bob’s career, focusing on areas where the author feels he has something to add to the discussion. These may or may not always match with a particular listener’s areas of fascination, but I do think he has plenty to add.”