The Beatles and the Historians: An Analysis of Writings about the Fab Four

Some Beatles books are for everybody, some are for fans, and some are for obsessive fanatics. This is the latter, and you’d have to be a fanatic about history itself, too, for this book to reach you.

The Beatles and the Historians isn’t just a look at the Beatles and how history has measured them. This is an academic study (maybe academic-lite) about the changes in how the Beatles were covered and regarded in books and articles, from their beginning to now.

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The author identifies four distinct phases of Beatles coverage: the Fab Four era, the “Lennon Remembers” era, the “Shout!” era and the latest era, identified best as the Lewisohn era. Each era is named for the distinct idea or book that defined the coverage.

The Fab Four era was the myth around the band when they were together, with the magazine interviews and official statements of the Loveable Lads from Liverpool. This was reflected in the authorized biography by Hunter Davies released in 1969. That book pushed the sanitized version of the Beatles story, only barely touching on controversy.

When the Beatles broke up, John Lennon’s interview with Rolling Stone, gathered into a book called “Lennon Remembers,” exploded the Beatles myth, but put a spin on it that made John look good and Paul look bad. That book was influential throughout the ’70s and informed much of what was written for the decade.

When Lennon was killed, the narrative changed again, and the publication of “Shout!” soon thereafter helped deify John and destroyed Paul further. “Shout!,” for all its flaws (and there were many), became the new orthodoxy of Beatles information.

Finally, in the 1990s, Mark Lewisohn gained access to the archives and started setting the record straight on the Beatles and their roles in the group. His influential books have become the latest word, and the most complete, on the group.

The book delves into these eras deeply, and discusses the process of historiography, which is a challenge if you’re just here for the music.

Again, not a book for the mere fan, but more for the obsessive fanatic.

I received this book in advance for review.

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South

This starts out in the middle of the turmoil just before the Civil War.

Robert Bunch, British Counsel in Charleston, is on the front lines, watching the U.S. slide into war. As a diplomat, he had to hold back his own feelings about slavery (hated it) in the midst of an entire system that lived by it.

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The “secret agent” part of this book may be overdone. As a diplomat, he watched, listened and reported back. It’s what diplomats do. Very little subterfuge, other than pretending he wasn’t against slavery, just so he could get closer to those who were.

We see event after event in the buildup from his point of view. And you know what? I kept waiting for something big to happen.

No stealthy escapes from authorities, no sneaking slaves over to the North, no sabotage of Confederate plans or materiel. Maybe I wouldn’t have been waiting for them if the title was a little more reserved.

It’s a good book but not the best I’ve read either about the war or spies.

I received this book for review