Brick volume to feed Beatlemania

11 September 2013 - 03:21 By Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives


Light of the World by James Lee Burke (Orion) R240

OVER the past three decades, Burke's voice has - through his detective character, Dave Robicheaux - grown more biblical with his portrayals of the epic struggles between good and evil. Here, a family holiday in Montana develops into a full-blown fire-and-brimstone conflict as a serial killer stalks Robicheaux's daughter.


Beatlemania's 50th anniversary celebrations go large next month - literally - with the release of the first instalment of historian Mark Lewisohn's ambitious three-part biography of the group. At 960-odd pages, The Beatles - All These Years, Volume One: Tune In (Little, Brown) is quite a brick - and it only covers the group's history until 1962, when they were on the brink of stardom. What's more is that an ''author's cut" (or rather, author's ''uncut") of Tune In will be available in November. This luxury, two-volume set, is a staggering 1 856 pages. It's a baffling business; if the standard edition is marketed as ''a complete overhaul" of Beatles history, what does that make the special edition? Twice as complete?

Lewisohn is regarded as the anorak's anorak when it comes to the Fab Four, and has published several acclaimed reference books on the group. ''The Beatles story has been told very often," he's admitted, ''but, in my view, rarely very well. I'm writing a wide-ranging history and my aim is true: to explore and comprehend what happened in and around the Beatles, and to write it even-handedly, without fear or favour, bias or agenda. A rock and roll group came out of Liverpool and shaped the last half of the 20th century the world over, and their music transcends changing times. The whole extraordinary story needs to be fully recorded and it needs to be done now, while first-hand witnesses are still with us."

Fair enough. In the meantime, Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties remains, in BookMarks' humble opinion, the best critical appraisal of the group's work.


Now out in paperback, Lucy Lethbridge's engrossing and entertaining Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain (Bloomsbury) is the ideal companion volume for all those Downton Abbey boxed sets. Far from the romantic image portrayed in the hit TV series, Lethbridge reveals that the country-house world was built on fear, deference and back-breaking drudgery.


''Often there were no 'last words' because the mouths of the dying were stopped by the tubes of respirators and their minds sunk in chemical twilight to keep them from tearing out the lines that bound them to earth." - Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (Scribner)