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The Lives of John Lennon Paperback – September 1, 2001

2.9 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An altogether worthwhile experience for those who admire either the man or his music." —Dayton Daily News

About the Author

Albert Goldman wrote the bestsellers Ladies and Gentlemen—Lenny Bruce! and Elvis. He died in 1994.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; Revised edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556523998
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556523991
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,333,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. S. Overfield on October 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
For many years I refused to read this book because I did not want to blot or tarnish, with content that had been repeatedly described as putrid, hostile, slanderous, character-damaging dreck, my image of John Lennon. After finding a hardcover in mint condition for only five bucks, however, I couldn't resist, and I'm glad I buckled. First off, like me, anyone wanting to read the book probably loves John so much that nothing anyone could ever say about him would really sully or ruin their affection for the man. Secondly, I realized quickly why Yoko Ono had so fervently condemned this book as I reached the second half. Overall, Goldman says nothing horribly negative about John (yes, he's described as neurotic and slightly crazy, but didn't we always know that about John, and wasn't that part of his appeal?) The person Goldman painstakingly describes as evil is Yoko. She comes across as satanic in nature, and while I was initially hesitant to accept this harsh assessment of her, too many other books, such as Pete Shotton's and Tony Bramwell's, paint a similar portrait for Goldman to be completely wrong. For instance, Goldman is the only writer to reveal that no record exists of the phone calls Yoko Ono famously and dramatically claims to have made to Paul and Mimi the night John died. An abundance of facts of this nature are to be found in the book.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I recommend you read it. The experience made me realize that my love for John is impenetrable, and if yours is too, then I recommend you check this book out. Ask yourself, who is the person who has done the most campaigning to destroy this book? The answer is the woman about whom Goldman does a good deal to expose.

(As a final asterisk, I meant to only give this a four star review, but I edited the review so many times that I ultimately hit the wrong button)
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Format: Hardcover
I can understand the anger some of the reviewers have toward this book; I am like them in the sense that I grew up buying and listening to the Beatles' records. So, in a sense, I am disappointed in reading about and finding out just how complex, and yes, how tortured a man John Lennon was.
Is the book bias? Of course! Does that necessarily mean the book is bad? No! From a sheer reading perspective, the book reads very well. I think it is about time some author had the guts to take on Yoko Ono, and show her in the full light and all of her shallowness.
I am only puzzled as to why the author Goldman did not spend more time addressing John Lennon's songs when he was a member of the Beatles. For example, to really show how lazy Lennon had gotten during the making of 'Sgt. Peppers,' Lennon sat around at home and rarely came to the recording studio. Yet even then, as a mark of the man's ability to produce good songs, Lennon was 'inspired' to write the album's "Good Morning" from a television cereal commercial, and "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" from (word-for-word) an advertisement. Yet Goldman fails to even mention this, giving virtually all of the album's credit, except for "A Day In The Life" to Paul.
It would have been a better book had Goldman spent more time on Lennon's song writing, and less time on Lennon's personal failings.
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Format: Paperback
<Update, April 2014: Philip Norman's life of Lennon, published in 2009, provided a more balanced account than was available when I wrote my original review of Goldman's book, below. Ray Coleman's biography skates over too many troubling realities, and Goldman's is too often mean-spirited and careless. If you want a basic biography of Lennon, Norman's is a good choice; he's writing as a fan, but acknowledges Lennon's failings as well.

I think Lennon was the greatest rock vocalist, and one of the greatest songwriters, of his generation. But John Lennon the human being has often been obscured by the mythology that's built up around him since his murder in 1980. I see some of Goldman's book as worth reading because it includes interviews and information unavailable elsewhere, and because its devil's advocate role counters the Lennon-as-saint meme that, in my opinion, does the man and musician a great disservice. Lennon was a musical genius with a troubled past whose life was marked by great internal struggle. There's plenty to admire about him without pretending he was perfect.>

The shortcomings of Goldman's book have been covered in other reviews, so I'll just mention a few. Goldman sometimes states rumor as fact, even when that rumor is discredited (as when he reports that Lennon had a romantic and sexual relationship with Brian Epstein). He frequently seems to dislike Lennon and to take delight in detailing his failings. And he plain gets facts wrong, as when he describes John and Yoko being on a plane showing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and describes it as a "Beatles movie." ("Beatles-related," yes; "Beatles movie," no.
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Format: Hardcover
The original publication of _The Lives of John Lennon_ in 1988 was accompanied by hysteria. Much of it emanated from Yoko Ono, who likened Goldman's book to "being punched in the face." Yoko is a close friend of Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine, which duly ran an article attempting to discredit Goldman's book. Some of Lennon's fans took this behavior in and assumed that _The Lives of John Lennon_ was forbidden; they would not read it because doing so would make them naughty.

Now, however, the dust has settled, and _The Lives of John Lennon_ holds up beautifully. Each contention of Goldman's which was alleged to be outrageous in 1988 stands. Remember the ridiculous panic over Goldman's portrait of Lennon as a heavy drug user? That drug use has now been acknowledged by just about everyone who knew Lennon, including Ono and Lennon's first wife, Cynthia Powell. The same is true about Goldman's claims about Lennon's tendency towards violence (a tendency Lennon himself owned up to in his Playboy interview). And, while Ono and others acted agitated over Goldman's depiction of Lennon as bisexual, Ono herself is found to have said she considered John Lennon a "closet fag" in a 1981 interview. (Why, then, was Ono so upset by the appearance of Goldman's book? Because of what it reveals about her.)

It will be clear to anyone who approaches Goldman's book with a fair mind that the outrage its publication originally sparked was unjustified. _The Lives of John Lennon_ is not dishonest or flawed in any way. A perusal at his "Sources" section reveals his awesome thoroghness. Goldman bravely explored areas of Lennon's and Ono's lives that others shied away from out of deference to Ono, a worshipful attitude towards Lennon, and a reluctance to figure things out.
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