Chuck Berry: An American Life

Product Details
$32.00  $29.76
Hachette Books
Publish Date
6.31 X 9.14 X 1.47 inches | 1.46 pounds

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About the Author
RJ Smith has been a senior editor at Los Angeles Magazine, a contributor to Details, a columnist for The Village Voice, a staff writer for Spin, and has written for GQ, New York Times Magazine, Elle, and Men's Vogue. His book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown was among the New York Times' "100 Notable Books of 2012." Smith lives in Cincinnati.
"RJ Smith's powerful and passionate portrait of Chuck Berry reveals the troubled man behind the iconic swagger and blazing guitar. To know Chuck Berry is to know racial conflicts in America. Smith makes sure you know both."--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA Legend & New York Times bestselling author
"RJ Smith's Chuck Berry is a brilliant deep dive into the life of the true King of Rock & Roll. The irascible Berry shaved with a blow torch and played guitar like a possessed wizard from the Great American Highway. In unexpected ways Berry was a civil rights revolutionary with songs as his artillery. Smith's fresh anecdotes, musicologist erudition, and page-turning prose is awesome. This is a must-read!"--Douglas Brinkley, author of Silent Spring Revolution
"Chuck Berry was one of the first people I knew that was true to life. Just like this book showing the truth to his life. I knew him from the 1950s onward and I can honestly say that RJ truly captured the essence of Chuck Berry as I knew him. You couldn't have a better book on the life and career of my ol' friend."--Bobby Rush, GRAMMY Award Winning blues artist, Blues Hall of Famer, and author of I Ain't Studdin' Ya
"Chuck Berry is both a national monument and something of an enigma. RJ Smith convincingly connects those two points in his scrupulous account, which is impressively detailed but never dull, and rich in the textures of time, place, personality, and sound. You'll want to read every word."--Lucy Sante, author of Low Life, The Other Paris, and Maybe the People Would Be the Times
"A hungry ear drives Smith's wondrous, brilliant book. Not only does he capture the excitement of Berry's music, he hears the awe of those in its thrall, from his rock & roll heirs to rivals, fans, and mystified bystanders throughout the twentieth century. Smith writes history as though it's a series of tall tales--how else to conjure Berry's brilliance as well as complexities, the unheralded highs and lows, the myth and the man, the man and the strange nation that produced him."--Hua Hsu, staff writer at the New Yorker and author of Stay True
"Chuck Berry is a necessary book that expands and beautifully complicates our understanding of Berry as a human and as an artist."--Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic
"No one writes about popular music and its icons quite like RJ Smith: his ability to see inside the psyche of the most enigmatic figures, to reveal the soft tissue connecting them to cultural context, to deconstruct how a song actually works, all with prose that borders on poetry. Chuck Berry is a masterwork."--Dan Charnas, author of Dilla Time and The Big Payback
"[A] rollicking bio ripe with the thrill of mythology."--Chicago Tribune
**Amazon, "Best Books of the Month" in Biography/Memoir (November 2022)**
"This account may become the standard biography that may appeal to general readers. Smith lauds Berry's accomplishments in music but also characterizes him as a lonely, self-destructive, moody, and aggressively sexual man."--Library Journal
"To some degree, all rock bios are about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, yet the biggest takeaway from Chuck Berry has to do with a fourth element: sheer force of personality... Berry liked to compose with other musicians, throwing words and riffs out and moving slowly till a critical mass that had been long in making seemed to arrive out of nowhere. RJ Smith writes in much the same manner, taking a song like 'Nadine' from a sketchy beginning to its masterful completion."
--Washington Post
"Just a lot of fun....Rollicking, befitting its subject."
--Los Angeles Times
"[A] big new biography."
--CBS Sunday Morning
"Chuck Berry gives readers background on those songs and his music, of course. But where it really succeeds is plumbing the psychological depths and driving forces of its subject in a deeper and richer way than ever before... Chuck Berry's music will likely never pass away. And with Chuck Berry: An American Life, there's finally a multi-faceted biography for an even more faceted man."
--Houston Press
"Few rock biographies rise to the level of their subject. In CHUCK BERRY, author RJ Smith offers a detailed study of the rock 'n' roll pioneer; portraying a shrewd, implacable trickster who wrote an ingenious catalog. At crucial points, Smith's lively critical voice and passionate detail enliven Berry's songs, which have inimitable stature."

"Smith's book is both a corrective and complement to Berry's 1987 autobiography...The best life of Berry in several years."

"So much the best [biography of Chuck Berry]... a rich book, full of tales and details and contradictions."--And It Don't Stop
"Definitive, highly readable, and unusually revealing, this biography gives us the remarkable Chuck Berry in full."--New York Journal of Books