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Publisher's Summary

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 his explosion onto the scene in 1961, this book follows Dylan 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.

©2010 Sean Wilentz (P)2010 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"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 of The Age of Innocence and The Gangs of New York)
"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)
"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; Editorial Director, MTV Networks)

What members say

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  • Overall

Another side of Bob Dylan

Not the typical tattle tale as the author delves deeply into Dylan's historical influences and extraordinary talent as a 'minstrel'. There are brief snippets of musical material throughout but what Wilentz really elicits is a desire to hear more; to listen carefully with nuanced ears and newly acquired insight so as to reevaluate the entire recorded legacy of a man arguably the most profound troubadour of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This is a serious work and as such, those seeking a peek behind Dylan's multiple personas, may not be satisfied the author can only provide exquisitely detailed signposts instead of pop punditry. However, musicians and poets alike -as well as anyone alive during Bob Dylan's life and times- may find this audiobook the closest we'll get to grasping Robert Zimmerman's true genius.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Marc
  • new orleans, LA, United States
  • 10-14-10

Editing badly needed.

Warning ; The first 2 hours of audio , excepting 20 minutes or so could be entitled " How I wrote this book plus all I know about Aaron Copland. " As a high schooler I used to go to the Gaslight Cafe weekly back in 1966 and went to N.Y.U. Unfortunately a lot of the book sounds like a professor spinning pet ideas that are off subject , 2 Hours ! The Gaslight Cafe info , beat poets etc. are part of the Dylan story ,
not endless factoids about Aaron Copland who no doubt merits some time . But not a mini thesis pasted on to a book .

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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American alchemist; recalibrating genius

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

See review below

What was one of the most memorable moments of Bob Dylan in America?

See review below

Did Sean Wilentz do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

See review below

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

See review below

Any additional comments?

Four stars usually denotes a book of uniformly high calibre, though perhaps not truly exceptional. Bob Dylan in America deserves the rating, though parts of it are without doubt truly exceptional. The problem is that parts are verging on dull-as-ditchwater too. Unfortunately (or fortunately if, as I would implore, you persevere) the dullest parts are front-loaded, meaning many will be put off reading what turns out to blossom into one of the most perceptive reckonings of the great man's career to-date. Although more academic in tone (albeit very accessible, if a little dry) BDIA is something of a half-sibling to Greil Marcus's Invisible Republic (aka The Old, Weird America), in locating Bob Dylan's genius in his alchemical relationship to American history & cultural tradition. We all know by now that Bob Dylan is like a human jukebox, but Wilentz really opened my eyes to the depth & breadth of Dylan's reading, which comes to have special bearing on one of the final quarter of the book's main themes: originality. The second half of this book is among the most interesting things I've ever read on Dylan, American popular music & the creative process in general. Although subsequently of more interest to me having completed the book, the first quarter seemed a bit of a drag; so much so that I twice gave up on it to listen to something more engaging. Also, the passages on the making of Dylan's classic album's counterintuitively are among the least interesting (compared to what follows) to anyone who's already read Marcus, Shelton, Heylin etc and has heard the stories a hundred times before. Although not exactly a chore to hear again it seems a bit of a lengthy & unnecessary thematic digression in comparison to the exceptionally interesting and wholly original things Wilentz has to say about inspiration vs plagiarism in the context of Dylan's obsessions (again, off discussed, but I think this book has the most in-depth and enlightening analysis of this topic of any Dylan book), as well as his fascinating origin stories of some of the key songs that formed part of Dylan's (and the folk revival's, rock & roll's, hip-hop's...) psyche. <br/><br/>All said, the first half of this book is interesting, but dry. The second, is one of the truly essential pieces of writing about Bob Dylan and American popular (and esoteric) music. With that in mind, this is highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Roger
  • Howell, NJ, United States
  • 04-11-12

A solid choice for Dylan enthusiasts

I've been a fan of Dylan since I was 14 years old. I've seen him in concert a dozen times, spanning 25 years, and have read countless books about him. This one held my interest entirely. It's not a Dylan biography, nor a critical interpretation of his lyrics. There are many books that cover those grounds. Rather, "Bob Dylan in America" is one man's thoughts about "Bob Dylan" viewed in a larger cultural context. I actually found the opening chapters on Aaron Copland highly interesting, and relevant to Wilentz's goal of presenting Dylan as a continuer of an old tradition, the traveling troubadour, a modern minstrel. The book does seem disjointed at times, but not to the point of being distracting. The highlights for me were the sections discussing Blind Willie McTell and the recent allegations of Dylan's plagiarism. If you're Dylan-obsessed, you'll enjoy this book. For casual fans, read the detailed reviews on the Web before purchasing this book to determine if this is for you or not.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Randal
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 10-07-10

looking back

I am a music history fan, and found the Sean Wilenz book engrossing. Well read by Wilenz with bonus bits of relevant musical passages. Particularly of interest was the historical background of artists such as bluesman Blind Willie Mctel as well as the real life murder of Delia both of which influence Dylans' creativity on the album 'World Gone Wrong'. Was fascinated with the Bing Crosby influence, but then I am a contemporary of the poet/songwriter, and we grew up in the fifties with the crooner. I haven't followed Dylan's work over the years, but am ready to look again thanks to this book. Sean Wilenz has given me quite a list of songs and albums to review - maybe even the Christmas album!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great Historian's a Fan

Sean Wilentz took a break from the heavy writing that encompasses his role as professor and an eminent historian to write a fast-paced look at Dylan's career. What I really appreciate is that Dylan gets the due from academe that he deserves. Wilentz, a lifelong fan of Dylan, not only examines Dylan as writer, musician, performer but also delves into the origins of American folk (not excluding country, gospel, blues, etc.) music which influenced Dylan. This is a book which should be read by anyone who wants to know why Dylan has the iconic status that he has. Of special interest to me was how Dylan had the career renaissance after some fallow periods in the 1970s. Dylan had a personal transformation which he chronicled on two Christian-themed albums and then the late 1990s and early 2000s musical and literary triumphs (Time Out of Mind is one of the great albums of the decade and his book Chronicles is a masterpiece).

But not all is sunshine in this book. Wilentz takes a very hard look at the accusations of plagiarism that began to dog Dylan late in his career. Here I think Dylan is given the benefit of the doubt for the most part. And I think that that is fair. I do wish Dylan was a little more candid about his borrowings if that is what they are. And because Dylan was awarded the Nobel for literature I think maybe that finishes the story but it makes me wish there were some new thoughts from Wilentz about this controversy. Here, I am less sympathetic to Dylan. I am torn about whether he deserved it (both sides make compelling cases here) but I think that he has been very casual to the point of disrespect to the Academy about accepting it. Guess he's still a rebel at heart.

Anyway, enjoy this title. As an added bonus--Sean Wilentz reads his own book and does a marvelous job. I wouldn't mind hearing more from him as a narrator.

  • Overall

Don't expect much

I don't know what I was expecting, but this book didn't provide it. It "reads" like a thesis read by the writer (he is an Ivy League professer after all) A few interesting tidbits floating in a sea of "facts." The writer states his opinions like facts even though there is no evidence that he ever met Dylan. His "facts" are either his pretentious opinion or somebody else's. Dylan may be this obtuse, but it seems that the writer is mainly trying to show-off his "knowledge." I could never get engaged as there is really no story.

2 of 6 people found this review helpful