As all Beatles fans will know, we have been waiting for the recently released first volume of Mark Lewisohn's biographical trilogy of the Beatles for ten years. Having recently released Tune In, he has now published an extended two volume set of the first book. I have read the kindle edition of this book, but I will try to explain what the extended version offers that is different from the single volume and, hopefully help you decide which edition you wish to read (if not both, as I did).
The one volume Tune In has the book split into the following headings: Introduction and Prologue (the same in both editions), Old Before Our Birth, Year 1: 1958, Year 2: 1959, Year 3: 1960, Year 4: 1961 and Year 5: 1962. This first volume of the two book set takes the story only to 1960 - in this first volume the end of 1960 ends at loc 8733. The first volume of this two volume set splits the chapters into : Introduction and Prologue, 1845-1939: Looking Back, Shapes of Things to Come (a far extended, 2 chapter, look at their family history and Liverpool in wartime), 1939 - 1955 (seven chapters of childhood and schooldays and far extended from the original `Old Before Our Birth' section on family history and childhood). 1956 Rock! (2 chapters on the skiffle boom and early discovery of rock and roll), 1957: Old Before Our Birth (3 chapters on that momentous year when Lennon and McCartney met "He'll get you into trouble son..."), Year 1: 1958: Thinking of Linking (2 chapters on those early days, "Where we going, Johnny?!"), Year 2: 1959: Three Cool Cats (2 chapters dealing with the Casbah, etc) and Year 3: 1960: Competence, Confidence and Continuity (amongst other things, covers the trip to Scotland with Johnny Gentle and heading for Hamburg).
The end of these chapters (not counting notes, etc) ends at loc 15840. Sadly, page numbers are not shown in this book, but if you consider that the original book ended 1960 at 8733 and this book finishes the same period at 15840, then that is 7107 extra - almost double the same amount of text to cover the same period. The illustrations section is also extended and, to be honest, is worth looking at simply to see the amazing photograph of George's maternal grandfather, John French, who is the absolute spitting image of George! Well, rather, George was the splitting image of him, but I hope that Olivia and Dhani see this, as it is really astounding. Mark Lewisohn's ability to discover these unseen gems are why this book stands head and shoulders above any other biography so far.
Knowing you have more text for the same period is one thing - the question you are probably asking is whether it is worth reading. That really depends on whether you need to know that John Lennon scaled the heady heights (or doleful depths) of 3% in his Quarry Bank maths exam - we all know he was bright, but he certainly brought a new meaning to the phrase, " couldn't care less" - or that, when his teachers unwisely asked him to run a stall at a school fundraiser, he gleefully created vicious caricatures of his teachers, obtained some darts and charged fellow pupils to "Prick your Teacher" (he raised more money than anyone else, even when he and Pete Shotton pocketed most of it, showing that his teachers had a greater sense of humour and tolerance than he gave them credit for). In all honesty, if the one volume book was criticised (unfairly) in national newspapers for having too much detail, then this is full of the obsessive detail fans love.
One of the really interesting, if not unique, things about the Beatles story is how the timing of things always worked out - in Lewisohn's words, the timing was "always perfect". If you were writing this story as a fiction, you seriously could not make it up. For example, Ivan Vaughan, the school friend who introduced Paul to John, only met him because his parents was so upset at John's disrupting their son's education that they vowed he would not attend the same secondary school as him. Consequently, Ivan went to the Liverpool Institute, rather than the more local grammar, Quarry Bank, became friends with Paul and later introduced him to John. It was not the first, or last, time a parent would sense danger and take a dislike to John - Paul's father was less than enamoured...
Mark Lewisohn knows that Beatles fans are quite happy to read about their heroes in immense detail and, in this two volume edition, he certainly gives us this. At all times he cleverly tells the story not only of the four Beatles, but also of the other important members of the story. It isn't overdone, but he always informs us what other members were doing when, for example, Ringo got his first job - or we learn that when Larry Parnes was signing Tommy Steele to a very unfair management contract (while George Martin didn't sign him and missed the next "big thing"), Brian Epstein had just started at RADA. He puts their life in context and discusses the music they heard, their influences and important events.
In reality, he paints a picture of those times which it would be hard to beat. Even reading the early pages about Irish immigrants fleeing famine and their suffering and poverty; the lists of babies born and then dead within weeks or months, shows us where the Beatles (three of them, anyway) came from. When one of them starts school or visits a location previously mentioned, Lewisohn will point out that a relative of one of them lived nearby or weave the strands of the story deftly together so that we know where we are and the context of events. When John or Paul say in later interviews how they wanted, above all, to be rich, or you read of Ringo wanting a job simply to get the uniform (and being cheated by getting only the cap) or of George's mother bemoaning the level of violence and vandalism where they lived, you understand exactly where they started and how little all their contemporaries had. Clothes, for instance, were in such short supply that both John and Paul wore their school uniforms on holiday and George's mother had to cut down his father's trousers to fit him. Ringo went to the fairground to hear rock and roll records; records were just too expensive and hard to get hold of.
So, should you buy this two volume set? Does the first volume offer you anything else? In all honesty, if you have never read a biography of the Beatles before and if you are considering which of the new Mark Lewisohn books to buy, then I would say just get the single "Tune In". It's brilliant, as detailed as you need - more detailed than the casual fan will probably want in fact - and wonderfully written. If, however, like me, you have read everything on the Beatles - including the single book "Tune In" - and yet still crave more, then you will love this. The first volume of this two volume set has immense depth to it, giving detailed historical background, more reminiscences from neighbours, school friends and colleagues, and is brilliantly written. I am looking forward to reading Vol 2 The Beatles - All These Years - Extended Special Edition: Part Two: Volume One: Tune In of this extended two volume edition next, which covers the years 1961 and 1962 and takes the Beatles to the cusp of success, with a record contract and ready to take over the world. Let's hope we don't have to wait another ten years for the next book in the series. Meanwhile, whichever edition of this book you choose, I am sure that you will enjoy it and, even if like me you have already read hundreds of books about them, you will learn something new.