Elvis Handbook - Book Review

By: David Neale
Source: Books In Print
December 6, 2004

Elvis Handbook
Elvis Handbook
I am not enamoured of Elvis biographies. Many come in coffee-table format, almost all reprint the same set of photos, almost all regurgitate the same tale, including the inevitable same errors.

'Elvis Handbook' is somehow different. Yes, it's a biography, but it offers rather more in its style of writing and content; yes, it has a lot of familiar photos, but also includes some less so; yes, it has errors, but it avoids the second prize 'Old Shep' and a recording for his mother's birthday type chestnuts; and no, it is not coffee-table format.

Strangely, the format of this attractive book reminds me very much of that used for holy books -- bibles and suchlike: it has that shape and size about it. Plus, it is gorgeously golden. I agree, normally this would make a book look garish, yet, together with Elvis in his gold lame suit on the cover, it somehow works for 'Elvis Handbook'.

The book's endpapers form a useful Elvis timeline. I can't count the number of email requests I have received for an Elvis timeline (even though they're easy enough to find on the Web), so there seems to be a call for such a thing, and here's one that's handy and complete up to the time of his death.

The text of the book is taken up for the most part by a succinct and interestingly written biography. This is interspersed with occasional interviews taken from other sources. Also, certain aspects of Elvis' career come in for closer evaluation, though without going too deeply into any particular aspect. The whole is further expanded by numerous quotes, which generally complement a photograph.

The text also includes some occasionally amusing writing: 'When Elvis saw [the Mediation Garden] completed, he had tears in his eyes. When Vernon saw the bill, he did too', and, writing about Elvis' meeting with Nixon and comparing Elvis' exhuberant attire to his, 'The president wore a dark suit and a fixed smile'.

Some poor proof-reading detracts from the otherwise enjoyable text: 'When Jamboree Attractions starting managing Elvis Presley', 'Elvis had a constant with a string of belles' and, 'a civil ceremony that lasting eight months', being a few examples.

'Elvis Handbook' is profusely illustrated in both colour and monochrome. The photos are well printed and captioned. Sadly, because of the form of the book, some double-page photos are rather difficult to view, but the quality of the others makes up for this aspect. Many of the photos are, of course, familiar to Elvis fans, but there are some interesting ones in there, too, that are otherwise seldom reprinted. In addition, the book is illustrated with reproductions of posters for Elvis' films and some of these are not for the usual English-language versions, so it's nice to see, for example, a Latino version of 'It Happened At The World's Fair' ('Pueos y Lagrimas') and 'Harem Holiday' ('Avventura en Oriente'). Sadly, the same carelessness shown in proof-reading the text is also present in at least one photo, with the portrait of Elvis on page 264 being printed in reverse.

Some factual errors have inevitably passed through whatever filtration process the book underwent. Some examples: during an otherwise very good sketch of Dewey Phillips, we are told that Yul Brynner (in the book written, 'Yul Brenner'!) was Elvis' co-star (presumably in 'The King And I'!); much to the disappointment of most male Elvis fans, it was not Dolores Hart that provided Elvis with his first screen kiss, as stated on page 78, but Jana Lund; and neither 'It's Now Or Never' nor 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' appeared on the original 'Elvis Is Back' release, as is intimated on page 195 -- they only appeared on the much later CD re-releases of that title. Fortunately, none is particularly significant, but it is just annoying to come across such mistakes, when it is so easy to avoid them.

Summing up, a good general biography, together with some interesting asides and additional information, well presented and illustrated, and at an attractively democratic price. A little more care would have earned the book an 'excellent' rating, but it still comes in at well worth the money.

Buy The Elvis Handbook

Elvis Handbook
Author: Tara McAdams

David Neale

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