Bookmarks Issue: 

The Triumph of Sam Cooke

A-DreamBoogieSam Cooke, son of a Mississippi minister, became one of the hottest and most influential singers and songwriters of the 1950s. But he lived a double life. A precocious gospel star before his turn to pop music, Cooke was both family man and serial adulterer, haunted by a complicated personal life even while winning fans—white and black alike—with hits such as "Twistin’ the Night Away" and "You Send Me." He met a sensational and suitably enigmatic end in 1964 when, at the age of 33, nearly naked, and enraged at a prostitute’s deception, he was shot dead in a seedy Los Angeles motel. Guralnick examines the artist’s troubled genius against the backdrop of profound social change in America.
Little, Brown. 750 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0316377945

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"The splendors of his book—its percolating narrative, meticulous research and profound identification with its subject—make it a worthy successor indeed to the Presley twofer. … Dream Boogie is the widescreen epic that Cooke has always deserved, an evocation of a lost world, a truncated life, and the music that triumphantly managed to survive them both." James Marcus

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"It would have been easy—maybe even fair—for Guralnick to center this biography on Cooke’s death, the black man brought down by an uncivil white world. But the quiet, almost abrupt conclusion … abstains from editorial comment and, in doing so, turns the focus to the triumphs of Cooke, etching a stunning legacy true to the man they called Mr. Soul." J. David Santen, Jr.

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Guralnick is a master of novelistic description and detail. … [His] book is an important piece of the Cooke legend." Cary Clack

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Never moralizing, through the monumental weight of his data, Guralnick builds up the picture. For faults, one might cite his occasional drops into a sort of thumping new journalism." James Parker

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[Guralnick’s book] must be considered the authoritative rendering of the singer’s short life. Ten years in the making, filled with both minutiae and a sweeping back story, Dream Boogie is a remarkable testament to Guralnick’s skill as a researcher, even if at times that very strength diminishes the story’s narrative arc." Charles R. Cross

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"It is a symptom of our age that most people find any piece of writing too long. So I’ll say that Guralnick earns every one of his 750 pages, but in the way Peyton Manning earns his $98 million—no one could give you more, but you might have other demands on your time or money." John Leland

Philadelphia Inquirer 3 of 5 Stars
"Since Cooke did not lay bare his irreducible essence, Guralnick relies on the perceptions of those who survived him to explain his complex relationship to African American culture and politics. … Forty years later, Dream Boogie illuminates the dark side of American experience, racially and in ways that transcend race." Glenn C. Altschuler

Critical Summary

Guralnick, the veteran music biographer best known for his two-volume study of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, combines meticulous research with a passion for his subject in the most complete and insightful biography of Cooke to date. Critics roundly praise the depth of Guralnick’s reporting and his willingness to track down previously unused sources (the book was more than a decade in the making), though some comment that the author’s exhaustive attention to detail at times slows an otherwise engaging narrative. Guralnick succeeds, however, in shedding new light on a short, brilliant life defined by its complexity and its contradictions.