Robert Shelton who wrote this Bob Dylan biography, worked as a critic with the New York Times for the decade from 1958 to 1968. While on assignment in 1961, he heard Dylan sing and play at Folk City in Greenwich Village and gave him a good review. This gave a nice boost to Dylan’s just-starting-out career, and started a friendship between Shelton and Dylan. As a result, Shelton had access to a lot of insider material from Dylan’s early days, and a lot of No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan is based on Shelton’s personal knowledge. It’s at its strongest in covering Dylan’s early years, when their friendship was active. Dylan is a notoriously private person, and Shelton lacks the kind of insight into the man he has since become that he had into the early Dylan. Through his eyes, the reclusive singer becomes almost likeable.
Bob Dylan : A not-very-likeable creative genius
The truth is, Bob Dylan is not a very likeable person in many ways, but he certainly is a creative genius and one of the great songwriters of the 20th century. No Direction Home includes a short study of every song Dylan wrote, an extensive discography, and 16 pages of black and white photos. For the composer of “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “Hard Rain,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” and “Positively Fourth Street,” that might be enough in itself. But Shelton does give us some insights as well into the private Dylan, at least in his formative years: a sensitive and easily-offended man, a sincere spiritual seeker. It’s not easy for a Bob Dylan biography to get there. The book doesn’t flow in strict chronological order but I found it quite clear and easy to follow. There are many biographies of Dylan out there, but this one was written with special insights and advantages and should be added to the collection of any Dylan fan.