[Ed. note: This is the 37th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
It's a ritual for many people to want to read every book on the subject of something they love. Sometimes folks dive into the literary pool early on, as they're learning about their new passion; other times they catch up years later to rekindle the feeling that made them fall for the topic in the first place. Then of course, there are casual readers who may only ever read one or two books on any given theme.
Regardless of the reasons for reading, most are faced with a variety of choices about what to read, especially when investigating a subject as popular as U2.
I can safely say that I've ready every book printed in the English language about this band. I'll spare you the titles of the ones I felt like burning, and instead focus on what I believe are the best five (including passages from each after my descriptions).
5. Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas, by Michka Assayas (2005)
This may be the closest thing we'll ever get to a memoir from Bono. He mentions in the foreword that he doesn't know why he agreed to the interviews, but he's glad that he did, hinting that the process was therapeutic. Assayas asks all the right questions, which dig deeply into Bono's spiritual beliefs, his family life, and of course — U2.
U2 were never dumb in business. We just had a strong sense of survival in us. We essentially became our own record company living in Dublin, not in London or New York, or Los Angeles. We don't sit around wondering about world peace all day long. We're not sitting around like a bunch of hippies. We're from punk rock and we're on top of it. —Bono
4. U2: A Diary, by Matt McGee (2008)
Full disclosure: The author of this book is the owner of this website. But I promise, the decision to include this book was purely my own (and knowing Matt, I'm sure it bugs him that I put it on the list). The fact is, it deserves its slot because it's the most comprehensive record of the band's history in existence, and it's frightfully accurate (trust me, I know — I was around in the days when he was researching all of those details and facts). Put simply, if you ever need to do "homework" on the band, there is no greater resource than this book.
June 2, 1987
During a restless night of sleep in London, Bono listens repeatedly to Roy Orbison's "In Dreams'". When he wakes up today, he decides to start writing a song for Orbison called "She's a Mystery to Me." He sings bits of the unfinished song to the band when they arrive at Wembley Arena for tonight's show. After the gig, there's a knock on U2's dressing room door: Security announces that Roy Orbison is here and would like to meet the band. Everyone is understandably shocked by the strange twist of fate.
3. Into the Heart, by Niall Stokes (1997, 2001, 2005, 2009)
Using a combination of extensive research, and conversations with Bono and various U2 associates, the Hot Press editor weaves a hazy, yet concentrated story about every song on each U2 studio album. Related photos and quotes help guide the author's artsy narrative through the genesis of U2's songwriting. Lyric nerds will especially love this read.
The recording of War had been exhilarating, tense and finally draining. There were times during the course of their incarceration in Windmill when Steve Lillywhite had had to push Bono to the limits, forcing him to sing until his throat bled. Now, there they were, a track short and with their allotted studio time almost up. The band had enjoyed themselves in the past improvising B-sides and starting and finishing songs in an hour. The results were usually throwaway, but what the hell? They wanted to get '40' done. Steve Lillywhite said to go for it.
2. U2 at the End of the World, by Bill Flanagan (1995)
This fly-on-the-wall account of the Zoo TV tour takes the cake for humor and unexpected twists. In fact, it may be the absolute best account of a rock band on the road in music history. Flanagan's unprecedented access to U2 on tour allowed him to witness not only how they interact with fans, but also with their families and each other. The way he paints each band member reflects how many still see them today: Bono, the bleeding heart; The Edge, a lovable nerd; Adam, the wild rebel; and Larry, the tough 'boss.' It's no wonder the band wasn't in love with this candid snapshot of their behavior, but if it were any other band, it could have been so much worse. And really, amidst the chaos, Flanagan does a great job of emphasizing the friendship and love among the Principle folks.
At 1 p.m. Larry strolls down the corridor looking for breakfast, wearing just a white hotel bathrobe and calling, "GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM!" He joins the four security men who are drinking coffee and checking off last night's log-in sheet. Adam returned to the hotel at 3 a.m., Edge at 5, Larry at 6, Bono at 10. The Final Week Iron Man Nightlife Marathon is under way.
1. U2 by U2 by U2 and Neil McCormick (2006)
Acclaimed music journalist (and childhood friend of U2) Neil McCormick sat with the band for over 150 hours, interviewing them individually and together about the story of their lives. What results is this definitive telling of how U2 came to be and still exists today. Because all four band members, and McCormick, are incredibly charismatic, nearly every page is laced with charming anecdotes. It also serves to set the story straight about many details of their milestones and personal lives. All self-respecting U2 fans should have this book on their shelf.
It was not a disagreeable head, in certain contexts it was quite handsome, but from the age of five as a result of this unusual development, I started to look unnervingly like the kid on the cover of Mad magazine. Along with the head came the teeth, or specifically my two front teeth. When they first appeared sprouting out of my gums, I knew there was something up. Their size was obvious from the beginning, and they grew in with a kind of terrible inevitability. —The Edge
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2012.