The best books on Rock Music, recommended by Peter Lawlor

Successful musicians don’t necessarily need formal training or 10,000 hours of practice under their belt; what they must have is a feel for music, an innate gift. But many of rock’s brightest burning stars were lost to drugs. Here, Peter Lawlor—who combined a career as a senior economic advisor with that of an award-winning songwriter, producer and record label executive—selects five of the best books on rock music, focusing on revelatory biographies that peer behind the veil.

The Best New Celebrity Memoirs, recommended by Sharon Marcus

While it’s easy to dismiss celebrity memoirs as offering cheap, voyeuristic thrills into the lives of famous people we like the look of, when they’re done well, they can give insight into challenges we all grapple with as human beings. They can also be very funny. Sharon Marcus, professor of literature at Columbia University and author of The Drama of Celebrity, recommends the best new celebrity memoirs.

The best books on American Film, recommended by Mark Harris

Five fantastic books on American film, selected by Mark Harris, bestselling author of Mike Nichols: A Life, who explains how “movies can reflect what’s going on in American society—sometimes anticipate it, sometimes fall behind it, sometimes lead it, and sometimes change it.”

The best books on Punk Rock (in 80s America), recommended by Kevin Mattson

Punk is more than just a musical genre. It is an ethos. Channelling one’s anger against the triteness of the culture industry’s offerings can be a spontaneous and creative act of resistance and rebellion. Moreover, as Kevin Mattson shows in this selection of books about punk in the 1980s in America, attending a rock concert by a band like the Dead Kennedys was a formative political experience for a generation of citizens, akin to attending a rally or a party convention. It was a spirit of constructive anarchy that can still channel the political anger of the alienated in the 21st century.

Favourite Theatre Books, recommended by Gyles Brandreth

The author and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth selects five of his favourite books about the theatre from the thousands that grace his bookshelves, taking in nonfiction, histories of music hall and amateur dramatics, plus a 16th century ‘romp’ starring one William Shakespeare.

The best books on Handel, recommended by Andrew Gant

George Frideric Handel was born near Leipzig, became established in Italy, and ended life as England’s national treasure. Andrew Gant—author of a new book on Handel’s most famous composition—selects the five best texts for gaining an understanding of Handel’s life and work, and explains why opera divas were the premiership footballers of the Baroque period.

The Best Movies about Race, recommended by Greg Garrett

Movies are a big part of American cultural life and also one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. As a result, movies play an important role in how Americans see themselves, including in attitudes to race. Here Professor Greg Garrett of Baylor University—film historian, cultural theologian and author of A Long, Long Way: Hollywood’s Unfinished Journey from Racism to Reconciliation—talks us through five movies that best illustrate how Hollywood has evolved in terms of race over the past century, from Gone with the Wind to Get Out.

The best books on Rock and Roll, recommended by Craig Brown

We might console ourselves with the thought that rock stars are generally miserable, but the truth is that most of them seem to have a great time. Journalist, satirist and Beatles biographer Craig Brown selects five of the best books on that rock and roll lifestyle.

The best books on Verdi, recommended by Francesco Izzo

Nearly everyone knows the photo of Verdi’s funeral, the streets of Milan packed with people paying homage to the great composer. How did the son of an innkeeper from Le Roncole become not only one of the most famous opera composers of all time but also a prominent symbol of Italy’s Risorgimento? Verdi expert Francesco Izzo discusses the books to read to best understand the man, the myths, and the music.

The best books on Celebrity, recommended by Sharon Marcus

Why are so many of us fascinated by the lives of celebrities? When did interest in the dark side of celebrity become mainstream? Sharon Marcus, author of The Drama of Celebrity and a professor at Columbia University, recommends books to better understand the phenomenon of celebrity.

The Best Samuel Beckett Books, recommended by Mark Nixon

Samuel Beckett remains one of the most significant writers of the twentieth century. Ruthlessly experimental, his plays, novels, and poems represent a sustained attack on the realist tradition. Dr Mark Nixon looks at the mutating nature of Beckett’s literary style and explains why he didn’t choose Waiting for Godot.

The Best Music Books of 2018, recommended by Laura Snapes

From a social history of the sexual and racial dynamics at play in American pop music to a meditation on how we consume music in the digital age, deputy music editor at The Guardian, Laura Snapes, picks the best music books of 2018.

Shakespeare’s Best Plays, recommended by Emma Smith

Shakespearean scholar Emma Smith picks her five favourite plays of the Bard, and controversially argues that not only are some of his plays just too long, but also that the most moving moments in Shakespeare’s oeuvre are where we might not expect them

The best books on Wagner, recommended by Michael Tanner

Richard Wagner’s works are as immense as they are influential: the four-part, 15-hour saga Der Ring des Nibelungen is the most analysed opera of all time. And yet, Wagner was arrogant and virulently anti-semitic. Can we separate the musical genius from the man? Opera critic Michael Tanner recommends the best books on Wagner.

The best books on Oscar Wilde, recommended by Sos Eltis

Oscar Wilde cultivated an image of himself as an idle genius, dashing off masterpieces with a lazy brilliance. But below the glittering linguistic surface of his works, suggests Sos Eltis, lies an anarchic politics and a phenomenal analysis of power.

The best books on French Theatre, recommended by Florent Masse

French theater is appreciated as much in reading as in performance. Princeton University’s Florent Masse offers us a reading from the point of view of teaching theater. How did the great men of theater—such as Jouvet, Copeau, or Vitez—build their learning? Discover the principles and references that guide the best directors. (You can also read this interview in the original French)

The best books on Heavy Metal, recommended by Keith Kahn Harris

Metal music, developed in the sixties and seventies, is notorious for its dark and disturbing imagery and its aggressive sound. But there’s nothing to be afraid of, says sociologist and fan Keith Kahn-Harris: it’s all part of the mythmaking of metal.

Slavoj Žižek on His Favourite Plays

The philosopher and cultural critic recently made a foray into drama when he reworked Sophocle’s Antigone—not out of admiration for the original, but to examine the “stupid and morally problematic” character at its heart. Here he selects five plays he admires—but declines to see performed.

René Weis on The Best Plays of Shakespeare

In the second of a Five Books series marking the 400th year since the world’s most popular playwright’s death, eminent Shakespearean René Weis picks his five favourite plays, and explains why King Lear will change your life.

Santigold on her Favourite Music Books

The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter took an unusual route to becoming a performer. She tells us how she got started, how to get what you want in the music business and how an extraordinary range of influences continue to inspire her

The best books on The Lives of Classical Composers, recommended by Giles Swayne

From Bach to Stravinsky, British composer Giles Swayne discusses the most insightful books for getting to know the real lives of classical composers. “You can have people who are really extremely mediocre with huge careers, and people who are wonderfully good but don’t have wonderful careers. Bach was one of those.”

The best books on Hollywood, recommended by Marina Hyde

The best books on Hollywood. ‘Smart people went to the ballet and opera, and what the poor and lower middle classes did with their time didn’t matter. But these men in Hollywood had a vision and were creating this product that was loved by everybody of all different backgrounds.’

The best books on Opera, recommended by Robert Lloyd

The opera singer says most people of his age feel that the quality of singing has given way to the providing of a dramatic spectacle. His book selection spans Italian opera and revelations of an opera manager