The Beatles: The Biography / With the Beatles / The Beatles: 365 Days

Gift guide

Rock & Roll Books

The Beatles: The Biography

by Bob Spitz

Little Brown, 983 pp., $29.95

With the Beatles

by Lewis Lapham

Melville House, 147 pp., $12.95 (paper)

The Beatles: 365 Days

by Simon Wells

Harry N. Abrams, 744 pp., $29.95

Although superfans have made sport of finding mostly minor factual errors in its 900-plus pages, Bob Spitz's marathon Beatles bio is an engrossing account of the band's formative years. It takes Spitz more than 400 pages to get the Beatles to America. Lingering in Liverpool's bleak post-war landscape, he painstakingly describes how the band's perfect mix of talent, determination, and fortuity emerged in a manner no one could've anticipated. From John Lennon and Paul McCartney both losing their mothers at the cusp of adolescence to Ringo Starr's childhood illness, the mind boggles at how much they overcame. Spitz breathes life into the Beatles' Hamburg residencies, for which they played all night, every night, honing their delivery into nut-tight precision. Given his past experience representing Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, Spitz dissects the Beatles as a business entity; between Brian Epstein's slow demise and the appearance of Allen Klein, the author paints an almost unbelievable scene of the world's biggest band having no managerial rudder whatsoever. Oddly, the book loses steam when the Beatles arrive in the U.S., the narrative becoming more clipped as the band comes apart. Despite falling well short of the "definitive article" hype surrounding it, The Beatles remains a qualified success. Harper's editor Lewis Lapham confines With the Beatles to the Fab Four's journey to Rishikesh, India, to meet with spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Lapham's account is on-the-spot circa 1968, without longer-term analysis of the visit's significance. As such, it's a charming but mostly unnecessary souvenir. For sheer enjoyment, Simon Wells' The Beatles: 365 Days is a bonanza of mostly unfamiliar photos from the Getty Images archive. Even though you know how the story ends, it still strikes an emotional chord. Listening to the Beatles while thumbing through this well-captioned picture book on a sleepy Christmas afternoon may be the best gift a fan could wish for.

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