Gould's combination group biography, cultural history, and musical criticism artfully places the Beatles in their time and social context while examining with great skill how they became an international phenomenon comparable only to themselves. He examines cultural and historical moments on both sides of the Atlantic—the impact of John Osborne's epoch-making play Look Back in Anger, the arrival of Elvis Presley and the rise of rock and roll, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Summer of Love, Woodstock—while limning Liverpool, the working-class port city in England's industrial north from which the Beatles hailed, and the individual Beatles' strong senses of regional solidarity and fierce local patriotism. To understand the Beatles, Gould implies, you must understand where they came from. He follows them through their roller-coaster career: Hamburg, early days at Liverpool's Cavern Club, their "conquest" of America, the hysteria that came to be called Beatlemania, Sgt. Pepper's, and the eventual breakup. All bases are covered, but setting Gould's book apart are his careful dissection of cultural history and his astute critical eye (his masterful critiques of "Eleanor Rigby," "Penny Lane," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and "A Day in the Life," in particular, are miracles of economy). Long on history, short on gossip, he gives nuanced assessments of the world's most admired rock band and of its era.