10 Best Elvis Presley Books of 2020

The greatest nonfiction ever written about Elvis Presley and his life

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Since he was not only the "King" but also arguably the most famous entertainer of the 20th century, there are of course Elvis Presley books (ghost)written about him by everyone, it seems, who ever met the man. And his significance in music history has led to endless print discussions of him as a musician, celebrity, and icon. But Elvis was also the most aggressively private star of his time, difficult to know even by those who knew him best. These books attempt to understand him from all angles.

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"Elvis," Dave Marsh

The cover of Dave Marsh's
The cover of Dave Marsh's "Elvis".

There are a number of books that explore Elvis more intently from different viewpoints, but this is the only one to define him in all ways at once -- who he was as a person, why he rose, what he meant to music and culture, why he was so loved and hated, why he fell. As a result, this is the first book to buy if you're wondering what all the fuss was about, but there's plenty of thoughtful eulogy for hardcore fans, too. The stunning Bea Feitler photos are alone worth the price of purchase.

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"Last Train To Memphis" and "Careless Love," Peter Guralnick

The best of the in-depth attempts to understand Elvis as all things to all people, Guralnick's two-volume, 1600-page monster (the post-Army being the second half) offers painstaking (and sometimes painful) detail on what life the King was, in fact, leading while worshiped from afar. Sort of a rise-and-fall tale that substitutes The Pelvis for the Roman Empire, and often cited as the greatest rock and roll biography ever written, it's a must for any Elvis fan.

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"That's Alright, Elvis," James Dickerson and Scotty Moore

Guitarist Scotty Moore, who worked with Elvis at Sun and beyond, was one of the handful of people present when Presley "created" rock and roll, but his memories are even more valuable than that fact would indicate: he was also one of the King's favorite people (if not quite a close friend, but who was?). Add to that the fact that he knew Elvis well for three full years before the Sun sessions, and this becomes the most important (and least sensational) of the "insider" books.

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"Elvis Day by Day," Peter Guralnick

Ernst Jorgensen's is the bible for those who want to know what Elvis did in the studio and when, but for the big day-by-day picture of the King's life, you want this lavishly illustrated coffeetable book, which utilizes Guralnick's wordsmithing and Jorgenson's archivism to paint a very intimate portrait of Presley's life. Want to play detective and figure out who the real Elvis was? Here's 400 pages of (often surprising) evidence.

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"Elvis: A Radio History From 1945 to 1955," Aaron Webster

A simple and straightforward tome: transcripts of radio interviews and descriptions of performances that Elvis made in the postwar era. But what a revelation! Presley was walled away from the public, both by accident and design, after his initial success, but before then he was an open book, and this book attempts to show us the Elvis we might have met on the street before he became an icon. Essential reading for those who think his professional life started in 1954.

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"Elvis! Elvis! Elvis! The King at the Movies," Peter Guttmacher

A book that exists to fill a vacuum, but it's a fun and necessary job: a look at the thirty-one (!!!) films the King made in his thirteen-year screen career. Many folks snicker at these films, but in his earliest years of stardom, Presley was thought of as a possible successor to James Dean. Film historian Guttmacher examines the evidence and offers the hard facts on every single film, including full-color reproductions of every poster and loads of rare on-the-set photos! Fun and fascinating.

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"The Girls' Guide to Elvis," Kim Adelman

Many male music lovers admired the King, but all the girls simply adored him, and so this crushworthy salute to Elvis also addresses a need. It's subtitled "The Clothes, The Hair, The Women & More," and that about sums up the kicky (and yet surprisingly in-depth and archival) approach to all things Elvis. Not born when he made millions swoon? Want to relive old slumber-party memories? This book can help. See Elvis on dates! Go with him on shopping sprees! Gossip about his girlfriends!

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"The Death of Elvis," James P. Cole, Charles Thompson

Elvis Presley died as he lived -- mired in controversy. And the unfortunate circumstances of his demise have been fodder for tabloids since before his burial. Cole and Thompson, newsmen both, prove that Presley died from drug abuse and not heart failure through a long and sadly detailed look at the last decade of his life. This is the definitive book on the causes of his death, which is why it's here, but it's not for everyone -- no morbid factoid is spared the reader. Approach with caution.

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"Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession," Greil Marcus

This, on the other hand, is not about Elvis death at all, but his afterlife -- that is, the fixation that the world still has with him, inspired by the many "sightings" of Presley in the years following his death. Irreverant and often hilarious, this series of essays (by one of rock's most venerated critics) works from the premise that he's worth more dead to us than alive, that Elvis represents "the necessity existing in every culture to produce a perfect, all-inclusive metaphor for itself."

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"The Elvis Treasures," Robert Gordon

Examining Elvis Presley's possessions makes as much sense as examining those of King Tut -- he was our boy-king, after all. A gorgeous "interactive" book assembled by historian Robert Gordon with the help of the Graceland estate, The Elvis Treasures features an hour-long CD of interviews and 22 removable documents. And those are just the bonuses. Personal letters, business contracts, invitations, greeting cards, handwritten plays for "Memphis Mafia" football games...it's all here. And then some!