Which Elvis Presley biography should I read ?
February 12, 2009 5:07 AM   Subscribe

I don't want to start a flame war among the fans but... it recently dawned on me that the late Elvis Presley's life must have been fascinating. Amazon tells me there are several hundreds biography to choose from.

I don't want to start a flame war but... it recently dawned on me that the late Elvis Presley's life must have been fascinating. Amazon tells me there are several hundreds biographies to choose from.

What I am most interested in :

The show-business side of his career, the path to success, how to build and maintain a myth, what is it like to be such an idol.

What I am not interested in :

blind hagiography that forgets to be critical, backstabbing, unsubstantiated gossips, conspiracy theories, etc.

What I am only mildly interested in :

the music. My interest would be the same if he had only an acting career.

So... is there one or a few books that meets my needs ? Thanks in advance, hive mind !
posted by Baud to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, Baud, there are one or a few books that meet your needs, and they're by Peter Guralnick and Bobbie Ann Mason. The latter wrote a brief life for Penguin, and it's succinct, tight, compelling, and covers all the bases. The former wrote a multivolume biography (Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love) that covers all the bases and then some, and is the definitive study of the King, by most lights. For the mythology with special attention to Presley's connections to American roots music and to popular culture more broadly, you might also look at Greil Marcus's books Mystery Train, Dead Elvis, and Double Trouble. The best written and most engaging of these books is Mason's, but it's also the slightest, so if you want depth, go with Guralnick, and if you want breadth, Marcus.
posted by cgc373 at 5:29 AM on February 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

I was also going to mention Guralnick's books. Can't really go wrong with those.

Have fun reading!
posted by Bearded Dave at 5:35 AM on February 12, 2009

Thirding the Guralnick books. On the blurb on the UK version of Last Train To Memphis (The first of the two Guralnick books) it has this quote from Bob Dylan,

"Unrivalled... [Elvis] steps from these pages, you can feel him breathe, this book cancels out all the others"

Both books offer a brilliant insight into a truly amazing 20th century figure. Enjoy reading.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 5:48 AM on February 12, 2009

guralnick all the way. completely changed my perception of presley. well i knew he was interesting, but not that interesting. i was also surprised by just how much of a talented and respectful musician he was, but so much of this story is bitterly sad. guralnick's description of the evening that's all right (mama) played on the local station in memphis is unforgettable. btw, i'm talking about the two volume last train to memphis and careless love.
posted by iboxifoo at 5:55 AM on February 12, 2009

Guralnick again. Last Train to Memphis is thrilling and Careless Love is heartbreaking.
posted by merocet at 6:05 AM on February 12, 2009

Guralnick, Guralnick, Guralnick. Both books are great, although the second is wrenching.
posted by maudlin at 6:12 AM on February 12, 2009

Just in case you have any doubt, Gurainick's double-volume is what you want.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2009

Having gotten Guralnick out of the way, you might also want read Greil Marcus's Mystery Train; just one chapter is on Elvis, but he is incredibly insightful about music and musicians as reflections of America and its culture.
posted by languagehat at 11:42 AM on February 12, 2009

Everyone is right. Read the Guralnick books. They are among the best biographies I've ever read, of any subject.
posted by cheapskatebay at 12:51 PM on February 12, 2009

The faithful despise this author but when I was getting into the King, reading his 1981 Elvis was very enlightening for me. Too bad it's out of print. I'll have to check out this Guralnick book.
posted by Rash at 5:51 PM on February 12, 2009

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