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John Lennon: The Life
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John Lennon: The Life

4.2 67
by Philip Norman

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For more than a quarter century, Philip Norman's internationally bestselling Shout! has been unchallenged as the definitive biography of the Beatles. Now, at last, Norman turns his formidable talent to the Beatle for whom belonging to the world's most beloved pop group was never enough. Drawing on pre-viously untapped sources, and with unprecedented access


For more than a quarter century, Philip Norman's internationally bestselling Shout! has been unchallenged as the definitive biography of the Beatles. Now, at last, Norman turns his formidable talent to the Beatle for whom belonging to the world's most beloved pop group was never enough. Drawing on pre-viously untapped sources, and with unprecedented access to all the major characters, here is the comprehensive and most revealing portrait of John Lennon that is ever likely to be published.

This masterly biography takes a fresh and penetrating look at every aspect of Lennon's much-chronicled life, including the songs that have turned him, posthumously, into a near–secular saint. In three years of research, Norman has turned up an extra-ordinary amount of new information about even the best-known episodes of Lennon folklore—his upbringing by his strict Aunt Mimi; his allegedly wasted school and student days; the evolution of his peerless creative partnership with Paul McCartney; his Beatle-busting love affair with a Japanese performance artist; his forays into painting and literature; his experiments with Transcendental Meditation, primal scream therapy, and drugs. The book's numerous key informants and interviewees include Sir Paul McCartney, Sir George Martin, Sean Lennon—whose moving reminiscence reveals his father as never before—and Yoko Ono, who speaks with sometimes shocking candor about the inner workings of her marriage to John.

Honest and unflinching, as John himself would wish, Norman gives us the whole man in all his endless contradictions—tough and cynical, hilariously funny but also naive, vulnerable and insecure—and reveals how the mother who gave him away as a toddler haunted his mind and his music for the rest of his days.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
“Powerful and heartfelt.”
Bloomberg News
“It’s this level of detail that makes Norman’s 822 pages such compulsive reading.”
Entertainment Weekly
“The bad news is that John Lennon: The Life is so rich and enveloping that it demands to be read…it’s a clear-eyed and compassionate study of a man...Grade: A-.”
Rolling Stone
“[Norman] sharpens what we know about Lennon at just about every turn…devotees will relish the new information, while casual readers will find a familiar story told more truly than ever before.”
USA Today
“[Norman’s] definitive biography draws impressively on exclusive and extensive interviews with Yoko Ono and, for the first time on the record, their son Sean…densely detailed, intricately woven and elegantly told, John Lennon: The Life neither condemns nor condones, nor does it consecrate its subject.
New York Times Book Review
“[A] haunting, mammoth, terrific piece of work.”
Publishers Weekly

Graeme Malcolm does an excellent job reading Norman's studious biography of the most beloved Beatle. Beginning with Lennon's parents' roots in working-class Liverpool, and continuing through his enormous success as part of the world's most popular band and as a solo artist, Norman's biography covers all the bases of an already-well-thumbed life. Malcolm does a particularly superb job of capturing the inimitable Liverpudlian accents of the Fab Four, and Lennon in particular. Stately, but studded with flashes of good humor and a storyteller's sensibility for rhythm, Malcolm's reading is good enough to keep listeners hooked, as if they were listening to "I Want to Hold Your Hand," or "Let It Be." An Ecco hardcover (Reviews, July 7). (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This extensive, thoroughly researched biography traces the life of John Lennon, who, nearly 30 years after his murder, remains one of the most intriguing and respected figures in popular music. Novelist and biographer Norman, who recounted the story of the Beatles in Shout!, focuses here on Lennon's life outside his legendary band, with particular emphasis on his subject's tumultuous, unconventional childhood, his strange and sometimes shocking relationships with and attitudes toward his parents, and his two very different marriages. Lennon's treatment of his discarded first wife and long-suffering, seafaring father are examined in rich detail, shedding new light on his complex personality. Norman investigates both Lennon the public figure and, more interestingly, Lennon the private man, revealing a uniquely talented and influential artist and activist who suffered from sometimes debilitating insecurity and abandonment issues that haunted him throughout his life. Exclusive new commentary from Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, and sundry confidants and family members provides fresh insight to this accessible albeit lengthy work of popular biography. A highly recommended addition to any public library's music or biography collection. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/15/08.]
—Douglas King

Kirkus Reviews
Comprehensive biography of the Beatles' most outspoken and controversial member, whose murder by a demented fan in 1980 only added to his legacy. Norman wrote one of the first and still one of the best Beatles histories (Shout!, 1981), and though he claims to have corrected many "inaccuracies and misjudgments" from that earlier work, there just isn't much new to say about the group's historic, hysterical popularity or John Lennon's role in it. The author, who is also a veteran novelist (Everyone's Gone to the Moon, 1996, etc.), tries to compensate by giving an in-depth account of Lennon's early years, stressing the lifelong rage and fear of abandonment instilled by familial instability. He was raised by his Aunt Mimi after his father left, while his mother Julia lived nearby with her lover. Lennon was traumatized by Julia's death in 1958, when he was 17. Norman takes a long time to get to the formation of the Beatles; the extraordinary songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney (who gets kinder assessment here than in Shout!); the group's seasoning in the tawdry clubs of Hamburg; their first taste of the mania they inspired in female fans when they played Liverpool's Cavern club in 1961; their breakthrough into national stardom thanks to manager Brian Epstein's and record producer George Martin's nurturing of their talent; the paradigm-shattering American tour of 1964; and the rest of the familiar tale, retold here with care but little passion. The author is frank enough about Lennon's insecurities and capacity for cruelty to have alienated his widow, Yoko Ono, who initially cooperated with Norman but withdrew her endorsement after reading the manuscript, concluding it was "mean toJohn." It isn't. Norman's fully three-dimensional portrait has no evident axe to grind, but it's also hard to tell why he bothered. He's particularly perfunctory with the post-Beatle years, evincing respect but no real affinity for Lennon's political radicalism and avant-garde adventures with Ono. Intelligent and sympathetic, but overlong and unfocused. Agent: Michael Sissons/PFD
From the Publisher
“Norman is brilliant at evoking the postwar world from which the Beatles emerged and to which their unprecedented global success signaled the end…. This is the best life of Lennon to date.”
The Guardian (UK)

“[A] well-crafted and altogether magisterial biography. A rich, rewarding portrait of a brilliant man.”
The Washington Times

“Mammoth and marvelous.”
Edmonton Journal

“[Norman] has uncovered much new material in his research for this impressive and highly readable book. It is greatly to Norman’s credit as a biographer that he does justice to all of it in a book whose 854 pages simply fly by.”
Sunday Times (UK)

“Powerful and heartfelt.”
Washington Post

National Post

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Before leaving London for the Sweet Toronto Peace Festival in September 1969, John had finally made up his mind to resign from the Beatles. But the whirl of departure had left no time to break it to the other three.

On September 20, Klein called a meeting in Apple’s boardroom for the formal signing of the Capitol contract. For the first time in months that John had all his fellow Beatles on hand to hear his news. But initially he held back, confining himself to a generalized complaint about Paul’s dominance of the band since the Magical Mystery Tour album. “I didn’t write any of that except Walrus . . . ” His tone was more hurt than accusatory. “So I didn’t bother, you know, and I thought I don’t really care whether I was on or not, I convinced myself it didn’t matter, and so for a period if you didn’t invite me to be on an album personally, if you three didn’t say, ‘Write some more songs ’cause we like your work,’ I wasn’t going to fight.”

The insecurity and fatalism revealed in this outburst were surprising enough. But John did not stop there. Warming to his theme – though still wounded rather than angry – he accused Paul of always having overshadowed him, not only by writing more songs but also by inveigling the lion’s share of studio time. It was not a row, more like the airing of mutual grievances before a marriage counselor. Surprised, and not a little hurt himself, Paul conceded that he might have “come out stronger” on recent albums, but pointed out that often when they went into the studio, John would have only a couple of songs ready to record. John agreed his inertia had been a factor: “There was no point in turning ’em out – I didn’t have the energy to turn ’em out and get ’em on as well.”

Paul was all for burying hatchets and pressing forward, convinced all would be well if they could free themselves from balance sheets and office politics. “When we get in a studio, even on the worst day, I’m still playing bass, Ringo’s still drumming, we're still there, you know. . . .”

It was the cue for John’s bombshell. “He hadn’t even told me he was going to do it,” Yoko remembers. “John said, ‘You don’t seem to understand, do you? The group is over. I’m leaving’ “

“I started the band, I disbanded it. It’s as simple as that,” John himself would recollect. “I must say I felt guilty at springing it on them at such short notice. After all, I had Yoko; they only had each other.”

According to music-industry wisdom in 1969, not even the Beatles could split up and expect to continue selling records in significant quantity. It was therefore vital that no word of John’s resignation should leak out until the Abbey Road album had realized its full market potential. “Paul and Klein convinced him to keep quiet,” Yoko remembers. “We went off in the car, and he turned to me and said, ‘That’s it with the Beatles. From now on, it’s just you – okay?’ I thought, ‘My God, those three guys were the ones entertaining him for so long. Now I have to be the one to take the load.’ ”

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Philip Norman is the author of Shout!–The Beatles in Their Generation, and biographies of the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Buddy Holly. He has also published four novels, two collections of short stories, and a memoir of his seaside childhood, Babycham Night.

From the Hardcover edition.

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John Lennon 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Gary_Scott More than 1 year ago
It is a shame that this is the third full Lennon bio to have appeared, simply because it is superb and I fear some potential readers may pass this one over. Philip Norman does what few Lennon/Beatles biographers manage to, he digs into the interior of this complex and interesting soul and provides an exhaustive and multi-dimensional view of the man. I am walking away from this wonderful bio [a very easy read] feeling as if I finally "know" this man I've admired for so long.

Norman seems very sensitive and insightful, and he manages to thoughtfully connect-[some]-dots of Lennon's lifetime in a way I've not encountered before. Normally the childhood & early years of a bio are ones I simply skim over; here, these chapters lay an essential foundation for the life that is to be explored. The author does a fabulous job of fleshing out Lennon's early familial years and bringing that post-war era Liverpool to life ... he does the same with the Hamburg years. Both of these are relatively under-explored and one-dimensional periods of the usual Lennon bio. What I like most about this book is that, while the Beatle years are certainly well-explored, this isn't a bio of "Beatle John." Rather, the man takes center stage while the Beatles and their music are presented as simply a part of an overall life.

There are a few areas skimped over or under-explored, however. The leap from Cavern Club regulars to global stars seems to happen suddenly, without much explanation or exploration. Likewise, I missed any seed-planting related to John's massive leap from "semi-violent Beatle John" to "hippy peace activist." That transformation is just presented without motivation or explanation. I also feel that the Dakota years are relatively under-explored, which is a shame given Yoko & Sean's participation in the project.

All in all, I would highly recommend this title for anyone remotely interested in Lennon and/or the Beatles. I'm not sure John Lennon will ever be fully understood even by those closest to him during his lifetime, but this intimate portrait brings us as close to him as we're likely to get. It truly is a wonderful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is basically a copy and paste effort, and there were a lot of grammatical errors, which I found distracting.

May Pang's influence on John should not have been underestimated (Elliot Mintz, Yoko's lackey, recalled that Pang never attained the status of being Lennon's old lady). She may not have, but she succeeded in getting Lennon and Julian together to "come together" in what could have been a very meaningful father/first born son relationship. I'm sure that she was glossed over since Yoko had input and I was very sure this would happen. A shame. According to May and very believably so, via dated pictures, she was a part of John's life for a long time.

For any avid Beatles fan, this was nothing that we did not already know.

I was disappointed.
AML1 More than 1 year ago
When I first started reading this book and saw that it is close to 900 pages, I thought I would never finish it. I am still reading it but it's going a lot faster than I thought it would. What an amazing man in such an amazing time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put this book down. Gripping to the end. Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not the biggest Lennon fan, and certainly not the most knowledgable, but I feel like this very detailed and intense book really provided a glimpse of the man behind the celebrity! Very well-written and moves easily through the painful and bizarre periods of Lennon's life. The author gives a lot of attention to the tragic end and I was left feeling like I lost a loved one.
babsb More than 1 year ago
This book was absolutely filled with information about the great John Lennon. It told so much about his childhood and the road to the Beatles as we knew them. I would have liked a little more personal information about his life with Cynthia, and felt that his life with Yoko was a little glossed over. All in all it is THE book to read to know John Lennon as the genius and the flawed human being who didn't always do right by people. RECOMMENDED!
Julieronetta More than 1 year ago
No hold barred describing the characters involved. Very interesting comparisons of how the groups are viewed in England as compared to American idol status. A real education of how a groups can become a sensation or die on the vine. A real "can't put down" book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and I think an honest portrait of his life. Both the good a daily the bad.
Holdoc More than 1 year ago
I wish I could write a review on this book but I never received the book from B and N. I wrote to them but to no avail. Save your money and shop elsewhere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some say this is a cut and paste of things already written. Some say typographical errors are distracting. I don't care so much about such trivial matters. This is a well written narrative of John Lennon's life - all in one place. A very enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Your review that was seven pages long could have been done in one page due to how you kept repeating yourself.And stupid me read all seven pages because at first I thought it was a mistake thinking you simply forgot you already mentioned that and then it kept happening.I was curious to read on to see if your review would continue on like this and it did.I could vision you smoking a joint and listening to Sargent Pepper's C.D.What an unusual person you are!!!
BeethovenRH More than 1 year ago
Nothing new in this book. It was copied from the MANY accounts of Lennon's life. What REALLY irks me is the Saint Yoko Ono BS. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very long & detailed biography & I haven't finished reading it. I have put it aside for a while & go back to it now & then but what I have read so far is an incredible life story of a complicated & very talented individual. I will certainly finish it.
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