On the release of his picture book Outlaw Pete in 2014, iconoclast singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen spoke with The New York Times about the literature that’s shaped his music, as well as his life. Springsteen didn’t start reading in earnest till his late ’20s, and he credits this shift in sensibility with a serious shift in his songwriting: “I skipped most of college, becoming a road musician, so I didn’t begin reading seriously until 28 or 29. Then it was Flannery O’Connor; James M. Cain; John Cheever; Sherwood Anderson; and Jim Thompson, the great noir writer. These authors contributed greatly to the turn my music took around 1978-82. They brought out a sense of geography and the dark strain in my writing, broadened my horizons about what might be accomplished with a pop song and are still the cornerstone literally for what I try to accomplish today.”

Decades later, he’d sink his teeth into studies of the financial crisis, literature that sparked an album: “Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin; Michael Lewis’s The Big Short; and Someplace Like America, by Dale Maharidge, with photographs by Michael S. Williamson. These are a few of the books I read on the recent financial collapse, and I contributed the foreword to Someplace Like America. The criminal outrage and recklessness described in these books led directly to my ‘Wrecking Ball’ album.”

His eclectic collection spans the American music canon, classic Russian literature, cosmology, children’s books and more. Read on for the full list, and complement with The Books Bob Dylan Digs.


How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell (also rec’d by Anthony Bourdain)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

“The first book I read was The Wizard of Oz, one lazy summer on my front porch on Randolph Street in New Jersey. I remember being thrilled by the book and the act of reading. Over time my most beloved character became the great and powerful Oz himself…He’s a carny phony, in way over his head, who manages to pull it off anyway.” -BS

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (also rec’d by Philip Roth)

Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (also rec’d by Ernest Hemingway)

Chronicles by Bob Dylan (READ: The Books Bob Dylan Digs)

Independence Day by Richard Ford (also rec’d by Philip Seymour Hoffman)

“I love the way Richard Ford writes about New Jersey. The Sportswriter, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land are all set on my stomping grounds and, besides being poignant and hilarious, nail the Jersey Shore perfectly.”

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

The Sportswriter  by Richard Ford (also rec’d by Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick (also rec’d by Bob Dylan)

Soul Mining: A Musical Life by Daniel Lanois

“Soul Mining gives insights into the making of music I found unique from any other book out there.” -BS

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass by Dale Maharidge

Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge

Foreword by Springsteen.

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music by Greil Marcus (also rec’d by David Bowie & Kim Gordon)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (also rec’d by Rose McGowan)

“It simply touched on so many aspects of human love.” -BS

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (also rec’d by Stephen King)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (also rec’d by Bob Dylan, Patti SmithSteve Jobs & Tilda Swinton)

“I just finished Moby-Dick, which scared me off for a long time due to the hype of its difficulty. I found it to be a beautiful boy’s adventure story and not that difficult to read. Warning: You will learn more about whales than you have ever wished to know. On the other hand, I never wanted it to end.” -BS

Examined Lives by Jim Miller

Sonata for Jukebox by Geoffrey O’Brien

Sonata for Jukebox, by Geoffrey O’Brien, has some lovely chapters in it, particularly its opening discussions of Burt Bacharach’s career.” -BS

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

“The short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.” -BS

Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe by Dennis Overbye

“For cosmology, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, by Dennis Overbye, was one of my first favorites. I find men and women struggling to answer the deepest questions we can ask freeing. It also puts in scale whatever my small problems of the day might be.” -BS

Life by Keith Richards

“I’m not familiar with the musician/novelist, but as far as memoirs, it’s hard to beat Keith Richards’s love of music that shines through in Life.” -BS

The Closer: My Story by Mariano Rivera

American Pastoral by Philip Roth (also rec’d by John Waters)

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (also rec’d by Bob Dylan & Nelson Mandela)

Springsteen took inspiration from The Grapes of Wrath for his second solo guitar album, The Ghost of Tom Joad.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (also rec’d by Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth & Susan Sontag)

Great Short Works by Leo Tolstoy

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (also rec’d by Bob DylanMaya Angelou)

“The summer always makes me want to pick up Leaves of Grass for a while and sit on the front porch. I come away happier.” -BS

(via The New York Times)


Books by Bruce Springsteen

Outlaw Pete (2014)

Born to Run (2016)

Categories: Musicians

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