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The Beatles: The Biography

By Bob Spitz (Adult Books, 856 pages, $29.95)

Despite their iconic status and the billions of words written and spoken about them, the Beatles have received relatively little systematic, documented, biographical treatment. Hunter Davies' 1967 book, The Beatles: the Authorized Biography, still remains the best insider's rendering of their career to that point, although many fans swear by Shout!: The Beatles In Their Generation by Philip Norman. And Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles Chronicle and The Beatles' Recording Sessions provide a meticulous factual account of the Beatles' public career as performers and recording artists. The Beatles themselves weighed in with the Anthology project in the mid-1990s, but even its value was limited by the surviving Beatles' 30-year habit of self-censorship.

Now we have Bob Spitz's new entry, The Beatles: the Biography. The book is thick, with an ambitious title; The Beatles now have The Biography, 856 pages of it. Spitz has set himself the daunting task of producing the first thoroughly documented account of the Beatles, featuring nearly a hundred pages of notes, bibliography, and discography.

This hefty volume's real novelty and interest can be deduced by checking two major events against the page number. Ringo Starr finally joins the band on page 329 and The Beatles' epoch-making debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show occurs on page 472. The Beatles' Liverpudlian upbringings, the development of their early career, and their youthful relationships receive the most complete and authoritative coverage ever. Spitz has found numerous people with fresh information about the North England nurturing of all four, and their world of school, early gigs, and romantic adventure has never been so well told.

Once The Beatles become the world-wide phenomenon on which anyone can get an interpretive purchase, Spitz's book gets pretty ordinary pretty fast. The usual villains emerge -- the Maharishi, Yoko Ono, and Allen Klein -- and Spitz does no better or worse than anybody else in depicting the feckless entrepreneurship of the Apple Corp. adventure and the tawdry squabbling that marked the last year of their career. Even the most hardcore fan will learn something from the first half of the book, though.

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