In Their Lives by Andrew Blauner

In Their Lives

Andrew Blauner

In Their Lives is a collection of essays that explore life at its many stages, from optimistic youth to spiritual awakening to mid-life crises, and how the Beatles' music can be a lifelong soundtrack.

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For readers who loved Tune In and Nick Hornby’s Songbook, an anthology of essays from a chorus of twenty-nine luminaries singing the praises of their favorite Beatles songs.

The Beatles’ influence—on their contemporaries, on our cultural consciousness, and on the music industry ever after—is difficult to overstate. We all have a favorite song from the band that made us want to fall in love, tune in, and follow our dreams. Arranged chronologically by the date of the song’s release, these essays highlight both the Beatles’ evolution as well as the span of generations their music affected. Whether they are Beatlemaniacs who grew up listening to the iconic albums on vinyl or new fans who stream their favorite songs on their phones, all of the contributors explore that poignant intersection between Beatles history and personal history.

With contributions from twenty-nine authors and musicians—Roz Chast on “She Loves You,” Jane Smiley on “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Rosanne Cash on “No Reply,” Gerald Early on “I’m a Loser,” Rick Moody on “The End,” Maria Popova on “Yellow Submarine,” David Duchovny on “Dear Prudence,” Chuck Klosterman on “Helter Skelter,” David Hajdu on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” and more—the breadth of the band’s impact is clear. From musings on young love and family strife to explorations of racial boundaries and identity, these essays pay tribute to a band that ran the gamut of human experience in a way no musical group has done before or since.

Timed for the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, this anthology captures the full spectrum of reasons fans still love the Fab Four after all these years.  

In Their Lives is full of pleasant surprises.”—New York Times

Advance Galley Reviews

Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read this book in advance. As a passionate fan of The Beatles, as countless others are, I still couldn't truly vibe with this book, unfortunately. Some of the stories were interesting, but overall I found much of the writing to be too technical. Too much about the sounds and strings used and not as much about actual memories and stories in relation to specific songs. It is definitely a book I'd buy for music lovers though, who do enjoy the ins and outs of sounds and the technology that goes into creating music. Just not for me.

Fifty years ago, a band dropped an eclectic album in the middle of the 1960s music scene that changed the world of popular music for years to come. The band was the Beatles, and the album was the phenomenal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles eighth studio album marked the band’s transition from schoolboy pop to a genre of their own. Although this change was apparent in their previous albums (Revolver and Rubber Soul), the incredible commercial success of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sealed the Fab Four’s iconic status. To mark this watershed moment in the history of music, Penguin Random House has released In Their Lives, an anthology of 29 essays that reflect on the cultural impact of the Beatles. Edited by Andrew Blauner, In Their Lives fuses together the history of the band with the personal histories of the 29 diverse essayists of the anthology and captures the indelible mark The Beatles left on pop culture.   Personally, my first brush with The Beatles was through a synthetic connection, or through two degrees of separation. I was seventeen, crushing heavily on a boy in class with an enthusiasm that any seventeen-year-old could muster. (My infatuation was predictably unrequited.) In this hot-headed adolescent period, I heard the song That Thing You Do on my phone’s radio while I was on the bus on my way home from college. I found a reflection of my teenage turmoil in the line “You never even knew about the heartache I’ve been going through...”   That Thing You Do was the OST of the movie of the same name that came out in 1996. A story about a pop band of four boys wearing suits, it was quite apparent this movie found its inspiration from The Beatles. Curiosity and a seventeen-year-old’s thirst for more moppy songs led me to the originals: The Beatles. I heard every song of The Fab Four I could possibly lay my hands, nay, my Internet-trailing mouse on. I regret to inform, I was not very impressed. They sounded... old. Boring. What can I say? It was 2007. I was a teen. My idea of good music, like many of my “English music” listening peers, was Bryan Adams and Michael Learns to Rock (MLTR). I’m not proud of that phase, but it was a learning period.   Fast forward to almost a decade. I got over the boy. I got over That Thing You Do. What stayed with me? The Beatles’ songs. When I heard them again, nearly 10 years later, something clicked in my head. The Beatles were no longer boring. I find it hard to pinpoint to a particular word or a verse of the song or the music that pulled me towards them. Aldous Huxley, in his wonderful essay 'Music at Night', wrote that music of the exceptional kind has the power to “evoke experiences as perfect wholes”. Listening to the Fab Four again did not just let to a resurfacing of the bubbly feelings of a teenage infatuation. Ten years later, I had experienced a déjà vu that the possible futures that I had imagined for myself at the age of 17 perhaps can still exist.   The Beatles had evoked a perfect whole of an experience I had as a teenager. Their songs became a marker of Proustian moments of my life as Andrew Blauner, in his introduction to In Their Lives, explains: “Seemingly everyone, everywhere, knows the Beatles, and ever so many of us seem to have Proustian memories, meaningful and memorable associations, and experiences with them.” Perhaps, this is what makes The Beatles one of the greatest bands to have existed. After all these years, they still have that evocative power. This is what the anthology of essays in In Their Lives testify. Read more at

As someone who discovered The Beatles long after Lennon's death and far into my own adolescence, I'm not sure this collection was meant for me. I enjoyed many of the descriptions and the unique forms of writing throughout, but I found it overall to be unimpressive. I do appreciate the history and context it created for me with music I already enjoyed, however.

Most of the time, if I'm reading an anthology or collection, it's really hard to give it more than three stars because there will be essays I connected with and ones I didn't. It's just sort of the nature of the format that it's going to be a mixed bag. But this is a really great collection. Much like the Beatles' own catalog, any weaker moments are just completely overshadowed by the standouts. The essays address wildly divergent topics and take different approaches to the Fab Four. Some authors us music as a jumping off point for a personal essay, others use it as reflections on the culture at the time, and still others go into lyrical explications or musical analyses. Familiar as well as not-so-familiar tracks are covered; it actually made me want to go and listen to some of the songs I was less familiar with. I guess if I had one complaint it would be that most of the authors seemed to be of an age where they at least were alive and cognizant while the Beatles were still together as a group. (I'm gathering this mainly from textual references in the essays themselves). It would have been cool to see essays from millennials or younger Gen-Xers who got into the Beatles later as sort of a way to show how big a phenomenon they continue to be. I received this book free from Penguin's First to Read.

I have to admit that I have never been a fan of Beatles music. Everyone else is my house is, so I hear a lot about them. So we I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of In Their Lives through Penguin's First to Read program, I decided it was time to learn more about their music. As a history teacher, I have to say I made a good choice by reading this book. It is packed full of history, politics, and culture. Although I don't expect myself to be downloading any Beatles music as a result of reading the book, I do have an a newfound appreciation for their music and their story. The connection that have made to the time period is history is a permanent and remarkable one.

Wonderful book of essays that is made more enjoyable by Beatles' song references and interesting antidotes.

The Beatles' music were part of the soundtrack of my childhood. This book brought a fresh approach to just what these songs meant to individuals and the impact it had on a generation. As with truly great music, the stories added a richer dimension to a point in time in the essayist's life. From the more musician's point of view to the music to the avid listener's context, music and words of the Beatles provide an iconic imprint that will be timeless.

When my father died two years ago, my brother and I talked about his influence on us as we were growing up. Dad was a computer programmer; my brother earned a double graduate degree in mathematics and computer science, while I run coding and robotics programs at my elementary school. Dad loved to read; we are both avid readers. But one of the earliest influences he had on us was music. He loved music and performed in many church groups, and there were often records playing in the house when we were young (yes, vinyl). The majority of the albums were by gospel or folk groups, but Dad also had The Beatles. And that is where our love of rock and roll began. Reading through the essays in this book was like having conversations with my brother about the different songs. Remembering the first time we realized this was a different type of music than The Kingston Trio or Simon and Garfunkel. Noticing songs on the car radio that we had heard on the stereo at home and singing along. Thinking of the first time we managed to play one of the songs on the piano or guitar. Laughing over the memories together. Famous authors and musicians may have written the essays, but there is an inclusiveness about them that pulls you in as you read. We all have similar memories of where we were when we first discovered a Beatles album (whatever the medium), or a story about our favorite song. The remembrances of how a specific song connects to a life event or loved one are also something communal that we can add to with our own memories. If you are a Beatles fan of any age, or simply interested in rock history and its impact on culture, then you should pick up a copy of this book. The discussions of how the group changed the face of popular music and how the songs changed as they matured as musicians and explored new techniques are interesting even to those of us not in the industry. Putting the essays in chronological order by the release date of the songs was a great idea. Even though the authors may have come to each song at different points between its release and the present day, we can still see the group's evolution over the years. And it reinforces the point that The Beatles have a continuing impact on those who have been listeners all their lives, those who have only recently discovered an affinity for their work, and everyone in between. I highly recommend this book for young adults and up. (There are some instances of language that keep it from being ideal for a younger audience.)

This is a delightful book of essays written about the most iconic group that ever lived. If you aren't a huge Beatles fan, you will be after reading this book, or at least you'll want to learn more about the songs mentioned in each essay.

I've always loved The Beatles and this book was an enjoyable way to see how their music affects others. Very good book!

I was skeptical at first. Does the world need another book on the Beatles? The answer is a resounding yes. In Their Lives is a kind of mix-tape, introspective journey on what music means for all generations. Whether it's a pleasant whistling tune that connected two lost lovers, or something forever embedded in the memories of the hardest time in our childhoods. In Their Lives is sure to please creative nonfiction fans and Beatlemaniacs alike.

I grew up in the late 90s and didn't really get to experience the Beatles. My mom liked the Beatles, but preferred to play Motown music around the house. I actually didn't really listen to the Beatles until college when my roommate, who is a Beatles fanatic, played their songs in our apartment all the time. Even then, I didn't feel much of a connection since the songs were from a different time and had a different feel than what I was used to. Reading this book and seeing how each song resonated within the different people really allows me to take the music further than the superficial feelings of just liking the tunes.

The concept of this book immediately captured my attention - great writers discuss great Beatles songs - and, if nothing else, In Their Lives, edited by Andrew Blauner, does just that. There may be some further proofing to do before publication (thanks for the advance copy Penguin/First to Read!), as Blauner's claim to present the essays chronologically to the songs has some hiccups, I think, along with a few editor's notes still tucked in. And, as with any anthology, not all selections will be sterling - there is a building repetitiveness after some of the essays. (Some of the best, standout essays, for me, included the words by Early, Popova, Gopnik, Klosterman, Schappell, and Hockenberry.) That said, this book does present wonderful perspectives on the cultural effect of the Beatles through individuals who encountered their music - mostly Boomers and their children, but occasional perspectives from younger, second or third generations throughout that I appreciated. While the authors become subjects of their chapters as much as the songs do, there are many cultural artifacts transmitted at the same time - the state of AM radio in the early '60s, for example, or international travel and successive music releases per country; exercises in English gardening, and a great deal of musical close reading (chord progression and the like) which was a new language to me. This book isn't just for music lovers or Beatles fans - as many of the writers point out, the Beatles have become such an integral part of a global, cultural DNA that their impact can't be overstated. These essays are great in showing how important an understated, enduring relationship can be.

In Their Lives is a collection of essays that take a look at the Beatles from the writer's perspective. It covers the entire career of the band with discussions on most of their major hits as well as a few deeper B-side cuts. Although every essay has its interesting moment, I was surprised that I recognized so few of the writers featured here. I also noticed that there were very few essays included for those second generation fans—the ones that were born well after the breakup of the Beatles and would have a different perspective of the music (though some writers do include these experiences through child/grandchild anecdotes). Some of the essays approach the songs and memories attached to it as you would expect—the song is representative of a moment in time for the writer, whether that's the first time they heard it or what changed after years of listening. Many of the essays hardly stitch a connection between the song and the main characters of the essay, giving those works the feeling that the song itself is just an afterthought. And then there are the few special ones in this collection that borderline on the absurd, presenting a Beatles song in such an academic way that you laugh, even though the writer's intention was probably not for it to be humorous at all (even the Beatles themselves thought it was ridiculous that colleges offered courses that deconstructed every line of their lyrics for serious study). Overall, it's a good read if you want to get into the mood to think about your own first experience with the Beatles or which song is deeply attached to a personal memory. A passage from Rick Moody's essay probably sums up the band and the way we all use their songs as a soundtrack to our lives very well: “Not capable of being confined by British popular music, or psychedelia, or Baroque music, or Indian music, or anything else, but magpies, claiming whatever shiny thing seized them, and refining and repurposing the material.”

An interesting collection of essays on the Beatles and their impact, personally, musically and culturally. The essays ranged from delving into the more technical aspects of the Beatles music what could be interesting, but not always emotionally engaging, to what a single song means to someone. Music is a hard subject to write about when you're interpreting or adding meaning to something, because it's so easy have a divergent feeling about a song's meaning or impact. Some of the essays lose me when it's so personal that I can't relate or see how they arrived at a certain connection, others managed to be entertaining and thought provoking even if I can't agree with anything they write. An interesting mixed bag of a book.

Thank you, First to Read, for providing me with an advanced copy of this book. Although there have been numerous books addressing the influence of The Beatles' music on popular culture, this anthology provides an eclectic group of artists, writers, actors, etc., with the opportunity to analyze the music on both emotional and technical levels. It's a good mix and gave me a better understanding of how the music has affected so many people and why it continues to endure. Being a lifelong Beatles' fan definitely helped me appreciate the book since some of the chosen songs are more obscure tracks, but newer listeners will find it useful as a source of discovery and direction.

It would be hard for me to not like this book. Beatles? Oh, yeah. I was pleased to get an advance read courtesy of First to Read! From the introduction: "The concept is simple: Ask writers to write about their favorite Beatles songs, tell stories of what the songs mean to them, the how and why of it all." The responses are fascinating to me...some personal, some expository. More than a couple of things were new... composition, group politics, life events...and I've read a bit on the Beatles. Not surprisingly, a few tidbits were in conflict with knowledge from other sources, but that made this all the more interesting. I don't have a "favorite" Beatles song, nor even a favorite album or creative period. I *do* have a few dislikes, but even John, Paul, George and Ringo disliked some of their works. This book prompted me to reflect on how I would answer that question. And to go through the catalog again. And again and again, because...the Beatles!

First, thank you Penguin FTR for this arc in exchange for an honest review. I'm going to keep this review brief due to the many problems with this arc. This is a book about a few very select songs from the Beatles. It doesn't cover all of their hits. Of course, we would be here all day long if this book did cover the entire catalog. Anyway, this arc wasn't what I expected to read. I did enjoy the fact that Sir Paul did write a note in the beginning of the book. That was great. However, I don't believe Sir Paul should read the rest of the book. Why? It didn't (to me) paint any of the Beatles in a positive light. "I didn't really like the Beatles all that much... but..." Yes! That part bugged me the most. If you didn't care for the Beatles, why say anything at all? I'm not expecting it to be unicorns and rainbows, but damn... where are the positive comments? The author didn't dig well enough for positive essays on the Beatles or stories. Some of these writers took the golden opportunity to express their political stances. Even those this book is a compilation of essays. I was excited to read this book. Why? I thought it would be about something positive for once. Damn, I got this one wrong. All it has is a bunch of negative people in it. Look, I'm glad we included all the other bands and solo artists. Give them their own books. This is supposed to be about the Beatles. There's nothing that "Beatlemaniacs" don't already know. It showed us nothing new. Just a bunch of knee-jerk reactions. The Beatles have influenced a countless number of bands either indirectly or directly. They have inspired speeches, novels, short stories, plays, and countless other things both in the UK and the USA. Yes, we already know about the drugs & LSD trips. That's nothing new. A lot of bands have/had their own set of drug issues. We know about John vs. Paul feud. It's nothing new. I, personally, didn't learn anything but a bunch of ramblings that didn't make sense to me. The over analyzing when it's just a group of guys who chose to play music. They marched to their own beat and it was, for the most part, a hit. The Beatles haven't faded into memory. New generations are listening to them, and their lyrics. "They didn't create heavy metal." No, but a ton of heavy metal bands do mention Helter Skelter from the Beatles. We can go on and on about heavy metal bands. They all tip their perspective hats to the Beatles. Or at least, they were influenced by another heavy metal band who was influenced by the Beatles. It all comes to a full circle, one way or another. It felt like this was a "rush" job. And this book didn't include all of the great songs from the Beatles. Anyway, I'm just another asshole with an opinion. This book really rubbed me the wrong way.

Consisting of an interesting if slightly confusing collection of essays from fans of the Beatles, I felt a bit like this book suffers from a lack of direction. Some essays are serious musical theory studies into what makes the songs great while others are personal recollections on what a song meant to the author at a certain time. Both are perfectly acceptable directions to take when discussing the Beatles, but not necessarily when doing both at once.

In their Lives is a collection of essays from various writers (some in the music industry some not) that each focus on one (and in a few cases two) Beatles song that affected them the most. Some writers chose to go the technical route and discuss the meaning or even detail the melody and how it was constructed while others wrote a more personal essay on how the song impacted, or soundtracked an important part of their lives. The stories are in order by release date which shows the progression in their sound and also shows how they went from point a-b: the beginning of Beatlemania to what fans thought was an all-too-soon break-up. I think the mix in essay type reaches a broader audience, although if you're in love with the Beatles you would probably read either way. I preferred the personal essays, and the essays that delved into the song meaning, the music theory essays went slightly (ok, completely) over my head. The note from Paul McCartney in the beginning of the book was a nice touch and it's nice to know that even after all these years it still interests him to know how his music had affected so many people. 4.5/5

At this point in time there have probably been more books written about the Beatles than there are Beatle’s songs (for those playing along at home, the Beatles recorded and released 409 songs, including the outtakes on the Anthology albums, live albums and other ephemera). Some critics have been questioning for years the need for more Beatles books. Those critics don’t understand the deep emotional impact that those songs (and the lads who made them) have had on so many disparate people all over the world, including myself. Consider this: when John Lennon was killed I told my girlfriend’s mother that I didn’t know why Lennon’s death seemed to be affecting me more than the death of my own father had. She pointed out “You probably knew John Lennon better than you did your own father.” The implicit tragedy of that observation aside, it points to the way in which the Beatles have become important in so many people’s lives. The editor of this book mostly chose as participants professional writers with essay skills. While this can make for reliably good writing, I did have the feeling that some of the essayists approached the writing with an “I can write about anything” approach rather than express a strong affinity for how a Beatles’ song impacted their life. The writing by people with strong ties to music, then, come off as more interesting over the people for whom music is more incidental to their lives. Essays of particular note are those contributed by Alan Light, who makes manifest the joyous “I Saw Her Standing There”; Rosanne Cash writing about how “No Reply” can be revisited throughout her life and find new meaning therein; and Jon Pareles plumbing the inexhaustible depths of “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Several of the other essays come off as academic exercises; not uninteresting, by any means, but lacking a certain emotional intensity that would show that the music of the Beatles made a real impact on their lives. For example, Gerald Early writes very well indeed, but I remain unconvinced of the influence the Beatles had on him after reading his essay. At most, the Beatles seem to be his version of a guilty pleasure. Perhaps the most confounding contribution is Joseph O’Neill on the ebullient “Good Day Sunshine.” In an apparent effort to keep from incurring song license fees to reprint the lyrics, he comes off as a Victorian novelist writing an academic exercise. Is this parody? I wonder. I’m still glad that I read it, just as I’m glad that the Beatles’ music is forever part of my life.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. Having grown up during the time of the Beatles, I was never much of a fan. I had problems with all of the hysterical girls shown on my television screen and couldn't imagine how anything could make me do that. We weren't allowed to raise our voices at home. That's not to say that I avoided them though. I listened to the radio and religiously kept up with the "Top 40 Countdown" every week. I guess that their songs just never really spoke to me. I enjoyed reading this collection of essays. It was interesting to see what effect these songs and this band had on individuals. I've certainly learned a lot more about the Beatles as a group and as individuals than I ever did during the height of their fame. It is easy to see the influence that these four gifted musicians have had on not only music, but generations over time. This book was a way to re-visit the songs with a sort of backstory that showcased their diversity. A thought-inducing trip through yesteryear!

The Beatles were the sound and songs of my youth so I was immediately drawn to this book. Admittedly, I scanned the table of contents and read the essays about my favorite songs first. (Thank you, author, for setting up the book as you Did so we could do this.) It was an enjoyable read and a few of the essays brought about new nuggets of info. It's nice to think that a new generation of young people may seek out some of the songs mentioned and give them a spin. In all, a fun trip down memory lane!

"In Their Lives" was a fun book to read. Although I enjoy Beatles songs, I don't consider myself to be a big fan. There were several songs written about in the essays that I had not heard before. So, I pulled up the YouTube version and listened to each song as I read the associated essay. Overall, it was a very enjoyable reading and listening experience.

In some ways, IN THEIR LIVES is like the Beatles catalog. Part of the magic of Beatles music is that it changed so much from one track to the next. They produced very deep and brooding music, as well as upbeat, fun, seemingly nonsensical tunes. While I wouldn't label any of the essays in the book as nonsensical, the tone of the individual authors varied considerably. Each essay is by a different author and focused on a single Beatles song. Some authors wrote a brief memoir about a time and place that they return to every time they hear the song. Some authors deconstructed the song and analyzed meaning and interpretations of the music. Some focused on Lennon and McCartney, some authors spoke about their own family and experience hearing the song for the first time. The essays are organized chronologically by release date, but the tone of the essays differs so much, it is like having every Beatles song on "shuffle". After one ends, you don't know if you're going to get I Want to Hold Your Hand, or A Day In The Life, or Revolution #9 next. The tone for each is very, very different. As a Beatles fan, I appreciate the compilation as a whole, but some of the essays did not hold my interest as well as others. I was expecting more of a collection of personal memoirs about what the song means to the individual. Some fit that description, while some of the essays get very deep into the significance of every note and chord in the song. Others analyze the lyrics and/or their cultural significance at the time. Of course, some songs, like Helter Skelter or The Ballad of John and Yoko, lend themselves to more cultural analysis. The former because of the unintended impact of a misinterpretation after it was released, the latter as a product of the cultural impact of the Beatles success on John Lennon personally. Naturally, those songs will inspire a very different response than, say, Golden Slumbers or I Saw Her Standing There. One thing I do appreciate is that this is not a breezy read of "Greatest Hits". There are some deeper tracks that I had to revisit before reading the corresponding essay. The Beatles will always be one of my favorite bands, but I realized I do not listen to them often enough and after reading this, I feel the need to listen to more of their music. The nostalgia has also inspired me to want to buy a record player and listen to the original LPs on vinyl, but that part will have to wait.

This book contains a collection of essays from various writers reflecting on their favorite Beatles song in their own individual lives. I enjoyed reading each person's impressions about the Beatles included with bits of Beatles history and trivia. This book definitely made me reflect about how the band has influenced my own musical life and how I did not experience the progression of their songs/albums since everything was out and available to me by the time I was aware of this Liverpool band. Thanks to First to Read- Penguin Books USA for the free copy of this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were songs in here that I have never heard before and it opened my eyes to some of my new favorite Beatles songs. The story that stands out to me is Rosanne Cash. If there is one complaint it's that she didn't write about more of the songs. Her insight was great and after listening to the song and then reading her section again it took the song to a completely different place.


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