Thirty-five years ago, on December 8, 1980, John Lennon was murdered outside his Dakota apartment by Mark David Chapman. Lennon, a brilliant artist and complex man, was witty, ornery, and haunted, exploring his life through his art. Lennon remains an influential part of our culture. His song "Imagine" has become a timeless plea for peace.
Because his early life and half of his artistic career was so interwoven with the Beatles, I've included several biographies of the Beatles as well, which show the evolution of the group and the interactions of the members, especially the genius writing team of Lennon and Paul McCartney.
1. John Lennon: The Life
Norman, whose 1981 classic Shout! is considered the definitive biography of The Beatles, returns with John Lennon: The Life. It's an intimate look at the troubled genius who, with other Beatles members, changed the shape and sound of popular music. The book takes us from his early Liverpool days and childhood tragedies through the roller-coaster ride that was The Beatles. It studies his post-Beatles career, his turbulent marriage to Yoko Ono, his peace crusade, and his murder. Monitor critic Lorne Entress called it " wonderful unfolding of Lennon's life with all its talent, tenderness and tragedy."
2. The Making of John Lennon: The Untold Story of the Rise and Fall of the Beatles
The author focuses on the question of what might have caused the downfall of one of the most brilliant musicians of the past century. Kenny emphasizes three main influences which helped shape Lennon's creative process and stayed with him throughout his life: his strong roots in his hometown of Liverpool; his troubled mental health; and a turbulent family background. Kenny explores how Lennon's troubles affected his relationship with the other Beatles, his family, the press and the public.
3. The Last Days of John Lennon: A Personal Memoir
Seaman was John Lennon's personal assistant, driver and companion from 1979 until his death. His memoir includes Lennon's virtual imprisonment in his apartment house, his obsession with food and sex, the Lennons' colossal shopping sprees, John and Yoko's fascination with the Occult, and John's premonition of his violent death.
4. Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon
Written by one of the few people outside John Lennon's inner circle to have read his personal diaries, Nowhere Man is an intimate journey through Lennon's last years, taking us from his self-imposed seclusion to his re-entry into public life with the Double Fantasy album. The book focuses on the human side of a cultural icon as Lennon struggled to create a meaningful life in the spotlight of international fame. He was on the verge of a comeback when he was murdered. The book has become a cult classic in the U.S. and U.K.
Cynthia Lennon, John's first wife, talks about their years together as a young couple, the sudden fame of the Beatles, John's drifting away from her and their son Julian, and of course, Yoko Ono, the ultimate game changer for Lennon and, to an extent, the Beatles themselves. "Only I know what really happened between us," Cynthia says, "why we stayed together, why we parted, and the price I have paid for being John's wife."
6. Imagine This
John Lennon's sister Julia steps forth with an inside look at the happy and troubled times of the Lennon family which includes strong, self-willed and selfish women who surrounded John as he grew up. John was taken from his mother at the age of 5 to live with his Aunt Mimi. Julia shows the cruelty of this decision to both mother and son. She sheds new light on John's upbringing with Mimi which is often at odds with the traditional story. When John was 17, his mother was killed when hit by a speeding car. The loss haunted him the rest of his life. This book gives us new and deep insights into Lennon's life and reveals the source of the artist's emotional fragility and musical genius.
7. John Lennon (Stories Behind the Songs)
Paul Du Noyer
This book delves into the extraordinary solo work Lennon produced in his final decade, between the end of The Beatles in 1970 and his death in 1980. The exploration of his work provides insights into the man and artist.
8. John Lennon: The New York Years
Bob Gruen first photographed Lennon in 1971 and became his personal photographer taking photos regularly over the next nine years. This book collects the most revealing of those images, taken during Lennon's years in New York, together with Gruen's reflections on the circumstances surrounding the photos, including John's relationship with Yoko, how he dealt with fame, and his experiences with fatherhood. The result is a new behind-the-scenes look at Lennon as a performer, artist, and person.
9. Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music
This biography explores Lennon from his childhood beginnings to his tragic end and draws on previously unseen or under-utilized materials, including the memoir of Lennon's father Alf, new records from the city of Liverpool, and fresh interviews with the Beatle's friends and enemies.
10. Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years
Tune In is the first volume of All These Years by the world's leading Beatles historian, Mark Lewisohn. A decade in the making, it follows the band members from their childhoods through 1962 when their breakthrough -- and unexpected success -- was just days away. This book has been almost universally lauded as the most thorough (944 pages), riveting and accurate story of the Fab Four.
11. The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of the Beatles
Peter Brown was a close friend of and business manager for the band. This book tells the inside story of the music and the madness, the feuds and the drugs, the marriages and the affairs--from the greatest heights to the self-destructive depths of the Fab Four.
It's one of the most comprehensive, revealing biographies of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Newsday called it "the most authoritative and candid look yet at the personal lives...of the oft-scrutinized group."
12. Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation
Philip Norman's biography of the Beatles is considered by many the definitive work on the world's most influential band. The updated edition charts the rise of four Liverpool lads from their wild, early days to the astonishing heights of Beatlemania. It describes the chaos of Apple and the collapse of idealism as the band heads for breakup. It also describes their struggle to escape the smothering Beatles' legacy and the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison. It's witty, insightful, and moving.
For a more comprehensive list, see my blog 50 Great Books About the Beatles.