Book review:

"Intelligent book release offers plenty to think about"

Elvis Presley by Bobbie Ann Mason Viking Books (A Penguin Life Book), USA, 2002, Hardcover, 192 pages, ISBN: 0670031747

It has been some time since a serious biography about Elvis has been published. In her well researched and engaging book, Bobbie Ann Mason, previously an award winning novelist, lays bare the complex intricacies surrounding the life and career of Elvis Aaron Presley.

The release is one in the Penguin Life series. Previous biographical titles in the series have been included publications on Abraham Lincoln, Pope John XXIII, Martin Luther King, Marlon Brando and Andy Warhol.

While other biographers have gone into a greater degree of detail and anecdote, Mason successfully addresses the more important aspects of the Elvis legend and its motivating factors in only 192 pages. The biography covers the well known and the not so well known. Elvis' childhood years, the halcyon Sun days, the Army, Hollywood, famous comeback, Vegas, Aloha and gradual disintegration are all given Ms Mason's heartfelt treatment.

Beyond this she traverses themes and incidents as wide ranging as Egyptian mythology to Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' and Elvis' excesses. It is her view that at the same time as 'the public ate Elvis alive', the man himself was 'struggling with the basic questions of life, with the glare of the spotlight blinding him.'

Her potent string of thought is further developed in thought-provoking fashion as she recognises how Elvis shattered barriers, both musically and socially: 'Elvis always behaved as if there were no limits. It was his genius, and his curse. His excess of aspiration spurred his worthiest achievements. When Elvis blended all the music he had ever heard and the opposing sides of his nature and the opposite races and classes of his region into one high-voltage eruption of music - wasn't this in itself a blatant excess? But it was brilliant.'

The author has a comfortably direct writing style as she moves between the prosaic and complex:

'To casual observers, Elvis must have seemed to be on top of the world. He was rich, handsome, famous. He enjoyed his life. He had friends, he had a place he called home; he rented a luxurious house in Hollywood where he could carry on his fun in his own way.'

Mason's incisive text successfully delves below the surface of Elvis's unusual life and lifestyle. In her chapter on Elvis buying The Flying Circle G Ranch: 'While Elvis may have entertained fantasies of getting in touch with the earth and the seasons, it turned out that he couldn't really relate to nature except artificially.'

The only weakness I discerned in 'Elvis Presley' was the absence of a detailed examination and analysis of the core of Elvis Presley's appeal - his music.

The author clearly understands, and discusses, the prolific musical influences stirring on the young performer, but the music, the individual songs of Elvis Presley receive only cursory narrative.

'Elvis Presley' is due to be released in the USA in January 2003. It can be pre-ordered from

Verdict: A fresh perspective makes 'Elvis Presley' a highly enjoyable journey through the life and career of the world's greatest ever entertainer. It is a great overview for newer fans, the uninitiated and those of us wanting to refresh our memories and thoughts about The King.

Click to comment on this review

EIN 2002