40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death: The books on The Beatles you should read

Eva Waite-Taylor
·4-min read
<p>During the decades after the band’s split, their rise and fall has been told as a myth, these tomes will help you better understand their history</p> (iStock/The Independent)

During the decades after the band’s split, their rise and fall has been told as a myth, these tomes will help you better understand their history

(iStock/The Independent)

The assassination of John Lennon on 8 December 1980 remains one of the most notorious events in the long history of rock music, and the industry more widely.

Since his death, Lennon has achieved, as many musicians who die young have done, legendary status.

The singer and songwriter catapulted to stardom as the founder, co-vocalist and guitarist of The Beatles, a quartet that for many was not just a band.

The Beatles’s first LP Please Please Me and the many that followed were a roaring success across the globe, and continue to be cherished today.

But, as a band, they also became a cultural influence. From fashion to meditation to drugs, the lifestyles of the members inspired many during the height of Beatlemania in the Sixties and beyond.

Following the band’s 1970 split, Lennon built strong foundations as a solo artist and activist. The songs he wrote in the latter years of his life – “Imagine” and “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night”, to name a few, only solidified his status.

Since the break-up, the group’s rise and fall has been documented across a range of mediums. Stories about the band have been told in everything from children’s books, cartoons and graphic novels to films and encyclopaedias. The constant trickle of new titles would likely overwhelm even the most dedicated Beatlemaniac.

As such, in honour of the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death and his longstanding legacy and influence on music, we take a look at the books that best depict the band in all its glory.

From biographies to critical analyses of their albums, reading these tomes may just provide an insight into a phenomenon that’s often thought of only in the broadest terms. Prepare to be enlightened.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

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‘John Lennon: The Life’ by Philip Norman, published by HarperCollins

This is widely regarded as one of the best books to document the life and legacy of Lennon. The product of extensive research and exclusive interviews, it features previously unseen footage and explores the pain, frustrations and interests that shaped one of music’s greatest legends. With more than 800 pages, this is a long read, but it is likely to provide you with great insight, thanks to the depths Norman delves into.

Buy now £14.99, Amazon

‘One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time’ by Craig Brown, published by HarperCollins Publishers

This dynamic and revisionist examination of The Beatles and their legacy takes a look back at them, 50 years after their split. Standing out in a crowded market, Brown visits fan festivals across the world to better understand the magnitude The Beatles had. We think this would make a great stocking filler for any Beatlemaniac.

Buy now £18.60, Bookshop

‘Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation’ by Philip Norman, published by Touchstone Books

First published 11 years after The Beatles split, and more importantly, a year after Lennon’s death, Shout chronicles the rock bands history in painstaking detail. While author and journalist Norman didn’t receive direct input from the four, his research and first-person interviews provide more than enough detail. A thorough and entertaining account that will help you learn more about the quartet’s mercurial output in the Sixties.

Buy now £13.09, Amazon

‘Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties’

The late Ian MacDonald is considered by many as the most well-informed music writers. In this enthralling anthology, every song by the band is analysed, with MacDonald’s essays providing a poignant summary of the cultural sea of change The Beatles helped to create.

Buy now £7.59, Amazon

‘Love Me Do! The Beatles’ Progress’ by Michael Braun, published by Graymalkin Media

Published when Beatlemania was beginning to fade, this tome is the ultimate guide to understanding what The Beatles were like during their heyday. As Lennon wrote himself “He wrote how we were, which was bastards”. American writer and journalist Braun reports the sensation around the band with fond objectivity, shining light on their flaws and sudden successes.

Buy now £16.84, Amazon

‘Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World’ by Rob Sheffield, published by Dey Street Books

Many books that document The Beatles attempt to capture the quartet during the confines of the Sixties. But, in this book Sheffield flips this concept on its head, attempting to interpret what they meant as an evolving cultural phenomenon during the decades after their split.

Buy now £12.75, Wordery