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Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll Hardcover – June 4, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (June 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081350
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #959,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“In an appreciative study that at times verges on the academic, Dolan traces Springsteen’s journey through a song-by-song and album-by-album development…” (Publishers Weekly)

Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ’n’ Roll endeavors to get to the heart of its subject by viewing him through the economic, social, political, religious and family turmoil that formed a musician who found out early on how to make his guitar talk but spent painful decades refining what he needed to make it say. Springsteen’s creative evolution and endurance as a populist American rock ’n’ roll hero is, according to Dolan, "a slantwise way of telling the history of our times, how we have come together and divided over the last half-century, how we have changed what we think of ourselves as a people."” (Robin Finn - New York Times Book Review)

“Readable and engrossing.” (Booklist)

“The definitive Springsteen biography/musical analysis, finely written and meticulously researched... by an academic who can write for a popular audience.... For fans, Dolan’s book is a necessary addition to the Springsteen library. For more casual listeners, who often wonder just what the fuss is all about, this volume is a good place to start.” (Michael Riley - Asbury Park Press)

“Marc Dolan has written a book of rock criticism at its finest. He brings to the story of Bruce Springsteen an encyclopedic knowledge, a clean, fast-moving prose style, and an irrepressible love of his subject. The Boss deserves no less, and he could ask for no better.” (John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Lives of Margaret Fuller)

“A riveting profile of New Jersey’s great bard. Dolan, the ultimate Springsteen fan, has an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. And his infectious love of American popular music is nothing short of awesome. The best book on Bruce ever written!” (Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite)

“A unique biography of a great rock ’n roll artist drawn from 40 years of thrilling performances. If you’re a Springsteen fan, this will deepen your appreciation. And if you’re not a fan, what the hell is wrong with you?” (William McKeen, author of Rock 'n Roll is Here to Stay: An Anthology)

“With the notable exception of Bob Dylan, no other singer-songwriter still active in the 21st Century has spawned as many academic studies as The Boss, and Dolan’s book is among the very best. As a chronicler of our times, Springsteen has few equals... and the author’s examination of an extraordinary body of work is as clear-headed and accessible as the music itself.... By necessity, his book also serves as a history of America, outlining a nation’s political conflicts, class disparity, prejudices and shortcomings.... [T]he author is especially evocative in his descriptions of working class New Jersey in the 60s and early 70s. Where he scores his most emphatic bullseyes, however, is in his assessment of how Springsteen handled his wealth and stardom; of how his conscience and politics adapted to being one of the most famous men in the world without losing sight of the struggles of his core audience, the ‘little’ man on the street.” (Terry Staunton, record Collector)

“Dolan makes a point of telling more than just the Boss’ personal history, putting his putting his musical contributions in context with the country’s political state.” (

About the Author

Marc Dolan is a professor at John Jay College and the City University of New York, where he teaches English, American studies, and film. A New Jersey native, he lives in Brooklyn, New York. 

Customer Reviews

I thought I was a huge Bruce fan, but I learned so much about the music from this book.
Smart Cookie
This book is deeply layered delving into the music process, Bruce's songs, his torment and his absolute glee that his music touches so many people.
Gypsy yogini
The author's vocabulary is good and even stimulating at times (although the word "interlocutor" is used a bit too much).
Scott Yanoff

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Boyd on June 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This stunning, beautifully written biography was just named by the New York Journal of Books as one of a handful of "Outstanding Books that Best Represents America." I cannot do better than this review of it by Amanda Mark, a leading expert on American music and culture:

To those unfamiliar with the process of becoming a musical god (little g), it can sometimes seem like the feat was achieved overnight. Unless you are lucky enough to get in early and crowd the local dive bar at 2:30 A.M. every other Friday to catch the latest "It" band/singer, new superstars seem to Poof! into existence from zero to hero in less time than it takes to get to the bridge of a song.

Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll is not a story of an instant celebrity. This fame and fortune was earned through a lot of blue-collar hard work and old-school American determination.

For those of us who grew up in the eighties, Bruce Springsteen was ubiquitous. He was The Boss. He was Born in the USA. But he didn't start at the top of the pack. It took practice and grit for Springsteen to pull himself out of Asbury Park, New Jersey.

That's what this story is about.

An obvious fan (who would choose to write almost 600 pages about someone they disliked?), Marc Dolan chronicles Springsteen's journey starting at the very beginning of The Boss's musical life, chronicling the purchase of his first instrument, an old second hand guitar. This is the same guitar that Springsteen used to teach himself "Twist and Shout."

But Mr. Dolan's book does not focus exclusively on Bruce Springsteen. Musicians are often reflections of the society in which they live and work.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By M J Heilbron Jr. VINE VOICE on July 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marc Dolan has written a fine addition to the Springsteen literary canon, an ever-enlarging library that now encompasses dozens of books. Each of those tomes has a particular purpose...a separate voice.
You have Springsteen's own "Songs", which peeks into his process and interpretations. The Dave Marsh books are the biographical bibles, so to speak, but seriously, he's a massive fan from the very beginnings of Springsteen's career. He's not, nor does he say he is, objective. There are others...

In fact, writing about Springsteen (like I sort of am here) or even listening to his music, cannot be objective.
This guy gets into the hearts and minds of people like few musical artists ever have.

Now, THIS book addresses his career using the albums as markers, not a bad way to go when reviewing a musician's career.
The emphasis is on the music, both studio recordings and tours. Clearly, this guy has heard a lot of bootlegs, but I was familiar with most of what he had to say just by listening to the formally released albums.

There wasn't a lot I didn't know (I'm a huge fan and a bit of a know-it-all)...but that didn't stop me from inhaling this book in a weekend, and enjoying every single minute.

In fact, the little things I learned...Billy Joel dedicating "The Entertainer" to Bruce at a concert in the 70's...kept me reading just to see what delightful nugget was to follow.

The reason I didn't pony up for a five-star rating is that I found the author's opinion intruded either too often, or too strongly, when discussing the music. Yes, we're fans, I get it. And like I said, I have no pretense about objectivity...but tonally...the flow of the book... suffered a few times because of it.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Smart Cookie on September 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This isn't a gossipy kind of biography. It's simply about a man and his music. I thought I was a huge Bruce fan, but I learned so much about the music from this book. The book is a historical tome on how Bruce's music evolved...what was going on in his life at the time, his struggle with fame, and how he has evolved as a man, a husband, father, a writer, an American citizen. A real fan of Bruce Springsteen will greatly appreciate the amazing detail in this book.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Franx on July 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book reads indeed like being in a classroom. As pointed out above. It is written from a more academic point of view putting Bruce, his albums, songs and lyrics as well as his life into a thematic context. One that is mostly historic, economic, social and musical. It does make reference to the personal and biographical milestones. As a matter of fact it demonstrates the personal and artistic path and growth Springsteen has undertaken. As such it is also about Bruces history and above all development as a human being as well as an artist. We don't learn much about the band, the managers, record labels, the studio sessions or the tours. Other books (Dave Marsh) have captured this. But if you want to know how Bruce fits into the bigger picture, this is a book for you. I mostly enjoyed the coverage over the last 2 decades since Lucky Town and Human Touch including GOTJ, Seeger Sessions and DnD. These periods have not been looked at before. It tells us how Bruce was able to sustain and manage his career since the meteoric rise up to Born in the USA. Few solo artists have produced an extended body of work which covers 4 decades and is a tight reflection of both personal development and historic context. I learned a lot and enjoyed the kindle edition.
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