Few people would argue that the HBO series The Sopranos is the greatest cultural phenomenon of our time. Its influence on television, on perceptions of psychotherapy, on fashion, on advertising, and on American culture and ethos in general are indisputable. Numerous books were written during the 8 years that the show originally aired, from examinations of the family (and, of course, the Family) to examinations of the psychology of The Sopranos to examinations of the language of the show. It was inevitable however, whether out of tribute or out of HBO's recent habit of issuing books for all its major shows, that a Sopranos book would be published. In May 2007 the first HBO-sanctioned book was published (appropriately called "The Book"), covering information and facts for the first 77 episodes of the show. Now that the final episodes have aired and gone down in television folklore, a new edition has been published titled, simply, "The Complete Book." Does this new edition do justice to both the show and its fans? Well, yes and no.
At 225 pages, a 35-page increase from the first book, The Complete Book does contain a vast amount of information. Upon first glance, it seems pretty amazing. Beginning with the well-known story of the show's creation (nobody expected it to get picked up), the book then moves onto the casting of the characters. Readers will learn how Gandolfini and other actors were chosen, followed by a summation of the show's initial success, and then how creator David Chase drew from earlier mob movies to make the Sopranos universe come alive. That universe takes place mostly in Jersey (forget the "New"), especially in the show's early years, and the book features an entire section on how sets were created and dressed, how characters like Carmela and Adriana were costumed, and how scouts chose shooting locations. This includes an 8-page spread of high-quality photos of the Soprano home's interior. And naturally this examination of where the Sopranos live is followed by an examination of the Sopranos themselves. After a short biography of Chase's family history and its influence on the show, each principal Soprano is examined in an essay written by the respective actor, with exceptions to Nancy Marchand (Tony's mother Livia), for whom John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco) wrote a short anecdote. These character biographies, and those that follow in the rest of the book, consist of the character's short history and the actor's thoughts on what drives that character and what directions might be taken in the future, and even an "insider" fact about each character. Want to know how Christopher's drug scenes were filmed or how long Tony Sirico (Paulie) takes to do his hair each shoot day? It's inside here.
The book next examines various prominent and characteristic elements of The Sopranos. It includes a section on how food is used on The Sopranos, both in-show and on-set, including a short glossary translating the slang used on the show into its appropriate Italian nomenclature ("gabagool" into "cappicola," etc.). After a section on sexuality in The Sopranos comes an analysis of how therapy was used on the show, from the research that was conducted for scripting purposes, to the on-set antics of Gandolfini and Bracco, to the end of therapy in the show's penultimate episode, to how dreams have played a role on the show. Then the book comes to the other major part of The Sopranos that hasn't been touched yet: Tony's "other" Family. Enclosed within is a breakdown of where the Family makes its money, how realistic the mob element is according to its real-life counterpart, and a comparison of the Jersey and New York Families, among other smaller sections. This also includes more character studies and photos of the backrooms of Satriale's Pork Store. The book finally comes to a section on the technical side of creating the Sopranos, more extensive than the earlier one. This includes the processes of writing, directing, art direction, filming, prop-making, post-production, music and marketing. Before the appendix, the book includes an interview with David Chase about the final episode of the show, "Made in America." The appendix consists of a "who's who" list of prominent (and some not-so prominent) characters, a map of in-show locations, and a complete episode guide.
So you've made it this far and now you're wondering why I gave the book only 4 stars. First allow me to list what's new in The Complete Book from the previous edition. The new version contains more pictures, including a 4-page foldout copy of Annie Leibovitz's "Last Supper" photo, the section on the end of the therapy, a section on the killing-off of characters (notably, Adriana), the aforementioned section on marketing, the interview with Chase, the "who's who" list, the location map, and the final episode summaries. Yet as with the original edition of the book, I can't help but feel like this was a rushed product, even more so this time around. Typos and factual errors from the first edition have carried over into this one, and are met with plenty more in the new sections. What was needed was not just a general editor for the book, but somebody who is well-acquainted with the series and can verify the accuracy of references and appropriate facts. Quotes are attributed to the incorrect episodes, character names are spelled correctly on one page and incorrectly on the next; things like that. For some reason Angelo Garepe is listed as being in both the NJ and NY Families, and is only listed as being dead on the NJ side. I also wonder why space was at such a premium for a book that's supposed to be complete (and deluxe!). For example, in the "who's who" list, many of the characters have photos, but others don't, although they were in some cases in notable roles in various episodes, such as Rusty Millio and J.T. Dolan. This section conveniently ends at exactly six pages, when they could have added a couple more pages and had photos for every character, since every character except maybe one or two could have easily had a photo taken from a corresponding episode. Other new sections could afford to be a bit longer, as well. Those on the end of therapy and on character deaths are each only two pages long, but could have easily been stretched longer. Probably the most disturbing alteration I found was in the music section, where text was added in to account for selections from the final episode, but where text was also taken out earlier in the section from the first edition. In doing so, the section on music was kept to a tidy (surprise) two pages, something that's actually extremely deficient considering that music is one of the characteristic components of the show. I also need to take into account the fact that Time Inc. did release a first edition of this book back in May before the final episodes were finished airing, and is now releasing another (hardcover) edition that takes those episodes into account. I received a free copy for reviewing purposes, but people who already purchased the first book aren't too well off now.
The Sopranos Complete Book presents a paradox, then. At a retail price of almost twice the cost of the first edition, but with only 35 pages of new content that as I've said, is lacking in sections, it's really hard to recommend this book to anybody who already owns the first edition unless that person is a collector or a huge fan. However, people who are huge fans are also likely to become annoyed at the numerous errors within the book and may find themselves wondering aloud as I did, "Well why didn't they just ask ME to edit it?" Bottom line: if you own neither book and don't mind shelling out the extra money for the more "complete" version, buy this one. If you already own the first book and are a casual fan, it probably isn't worth your money to buy this new book unless you can find it cheap. Those 35 pages probably aren't worth an extra (retail) $18. And if you're the world's biggest Sopranos fan and feel that you must have this book at whatever the cost(!), then please buy it. Just try to overlook the errors that, just between you and me, we both know you would have caught.