Elvis Presley: A Penguin Life

Bobbie Ann Mason

The Penguin Lives series brings us short biographies of famous people by writers who purport to know something about the lives in question: Larry McMurtry on Crazy Horse, for instance. In the case of Southern writer Bobbie Ann Mason, who grew up only a few miles from the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, it’s a very good choice. Mason’s meditation on Elvis’ life doesn’t provide any new information, and for detail, we’d want Peter Guralnick’s two-volume biography, anyway. But she illuminates the Southern boy with the sort of loving yet honest perception we’d expect from kin. She takes a sort of American Marxist approach, revealing the ways in which Elvis’ class background both drove him to success and kept him from enjoying it by “sharecropping his own talent.”