Ed Cray's biography of Woody Guthrie gives us as complete a picture of the folk-song legend as we are ever likely to get; he had the cooperation of all surviving members of the Guthrie family and full access to Guthrie's personal papers. Cray also does a marvelous job giving us a sense of Guthrie's work, liberally sprinkling his text with lyrics from familiar and unfamiliar songs. The result is not only complete and comprehensive but very sympathetic, despite details (wandering, neglecting his children, womanizing, drinking, fighting, etc.) that bring Guthrie down a peg from the sainthood that some might want to give him.
Guthrie himself seems a knotty reflection of the troubled times in which his music first arose: the struggles of the working poor during the Great Depression, followed by the paranoia of McCarthyism in the late 40s and beyond. Both Guthrie and his music showed a kind of restless, kinetic energy until this second period set in, but then dissolve in a kind of undisciplined confusion.
We know now of course that this change in Guthrie was caused by his disease, Huntington's chorea, which hospitalized him for the last decade or more of his life. Cray does an exceptionally good job of showing the gradual increase of the disease from the point where its earlier symptoms just seemed like a quirky part of Guthrie's personality to the point where his internal fight against it made him violent, and finally to the point where he was rendered speechless and immobile. Guthrie's second wife Marjorie (Arlo's mother) comes off fairly saintly, visiting Guthrie with their kids weekly in the hospital for years even after their divorce.
In sum, the book is inspirational, informative, and poignant as well. The only thing that keeps me from giving it five stars is its length, which fans of Guthrie will not find daunting but which may be more than you are looking for it you are only a casual reader.