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Many of my favorite books crisscross genres. For instance, Life on the Mississippi, my favorite Mark Twain book, blends autobiography, travel essay, and social commentary. Sean Wilentz's new Bob Dylan in America is a book I can't let go of for the same reason. Wilentz is a Bancroft Prize winning historian, but this work, transparently a labor of love, isn't just a popular history or a cultural biography of Dylan; like the ageless troubadour himself, it weaves unpredictably through his story, touching down where it will. Thus, Wilentz muses on the influence of the Beats and Aaron Copland, then waltzes us off to a 1964 Dylan concert at New York's Philharmonic Hall. Nothing about the Hibbing enigma seems beyond or beneath his reach: With equal interest, he reflects on Dylan's apocalypticism and faith changes and on the musician's appropriation of carnival traditions. Wilentz engages the Minnesota transplant as a near-contemporary, someone grappling with issues that he can understand. It made me understand Dylan, and myself, in new ways.