HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Philip Norman

Historian of Cool and Beatles Biographer


  • The Life of John Lennon
  • Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation
  • From Gandhi to Capote; Kennedy to Imelda: Stories From a Career Journalist



Philip Norman is a journalist, author, and commentator on popular culture and style whom the London Sunday Times dubbed “The Historian of Cool,” and Vogue called “one of the wittiest and sharpest writers of his generation.”  His best-selling book Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation is considered the “definitive [Beatles] biography” (New York Times), and his New York Times best-selling, critically-acclaimed book, John Lennon: The Life (Harper) provides an unprecedented look at the legendary man. Norman has written and narrated several TV documentaries, appeared on national television shows in the U.S. and the U.K., including Good Morning America, Richard and Judy, the BBC, and Sky News. A talented raconteur, he has given “Evening With...” talks at the Edinburgh Festival and Isle of Wight Arts Festival, and spoken at Beatles conventions worldwide.

Norman began his in-depth coverage of the Beatles in 1968 when he was assigned to report on the Beatles’ own business utopia, Apple Corps, from the inside.His access and experiences allowed him to become the definitive biographer of the Beatles. His best-selling Shout! which was originally published in 1981, has been continuously in print ever since in languages all over world. The Chicago Sun-Times hailed it as “the best, most detailed, and most serious biography of the Beatles and their time.”

Norman’s John Lennon is an extraordinarily detailed, vibrantly written, in-depth account of the life of John Lennon – the most deeply researched and comprehensive biography to date. Bill Harry, who was with Lennon at art college and went on to edit Mersey Beat and write The John Lennon Encyclopedia, said of it: “Reading this book brings the John Lennon I knew vividly back to life.” John Lennon provides fascinating insights into the legendary musician’s chaotic childhood, the truth about his relationship to his father, his dangerous reactions to the loss of his mother and his best friend Stu Sutcliffe, through the unprecedented rise of the Beatles and the infighting in the band during the Yoko years, ending on the evening of his death in 1980. Complete with dozens of never-before-seen photos, this is the be-all and end-all biography of the star that was bigger than Elvis.

Norman is also the author of comprehensive biographies of the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Buddy Holly, the author of four novels and two collections of short stories, and was chosen as one of the first 20 “Best of Young British Novelists” on the same list including Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie. Norman is a  playwright whose work has appeared on Radio 4 and BBC2 and he wrote the musical This Is Elvis, which debuted in 2006. He has been a writer and narrator for the TV documentaries Fantasy Island: Britain in the 1980s, Not Fade Away: In Search of Buddy Holly, and Babycham Night.

Norman was brought up in England in Ryde, Isle of Wight, where his father was an end-of-the-pier showman. Norman chronicled those years in his memoir, Babycham Night, which was read on Radio 4 as Book of the Week, described as “a masterpiece” by the London Sunday Times, and was made into a TV documentary of the same name.

Norman began his journalism career at the young age of 18. When he was 22 he won a Sunday Times talent contest and landed a job as a feature writer on the Sunday Times Magazine. He travelled the world as a star writer for the magazine, interviewing (among others) King Hussein of Jordan, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, President Gaddafy of Libya (first British journalist to do so), President Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines and wife Imelda, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, P.G. Wodehouse, J.R.R Tolkien, Truman Capote, David Hockney, Philip Roth, Senator Edward Kennedy, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Cliff Richard, Bill Haley, Fats Domino, and the Everly Brothers. He was a regular columnist for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Guardian, and the Daily Express. His work has appeared in the IndependentIndependent On Sunday, Mail On Sunday, the New York Times, New York magazine, Vanity Fair, Harpers & Queen, Tatler, Cosmopolitan, The Spectator, The New Statesman, Rolling Stone, Playboy, GQ, and Granta.

Norman lives in London, England.

Praise for John Lennon: The Life:

“More moving and less plausible than most fiction, Lennon’s life is one of the great 20th century fables, and it’s told here definitively by a major Beatles scholar. Even as Lennon went from young tough to global pop star to hippie prophet, he never ceased to be a shattered, motherless little boy. When have so many ever followed anyone so lost? A.”

“…it sharpens what we know about Lennon at just about every turn…[Norman] pushes beyond the clichés in exploring how the books and poems Lennon loved as a child re-emerged in both his songs and his prose. And he cracks the mystery of the affair Lennon admitted writing about in ‘Norwegian Wood’… devotees will relish the new information, while casual readers will find a familiar story told more truly than ever before.”
Rolling Stone

“The bad news is that John Lennon: The Life is so rich and enveloping that it demands to be read… it’s a clear-eyed and compassionate study of a man … Norman, author of the Beatles history Shout!, conjures the singer’s childhood, early years as a Beatle, and marriages in almost novelistic detail… Norman coaxes fresh insights out of both Ono and producer George Martin. And, thanks to a rare interview with Sean Ono Lennon, he turns the postscript into a touching sort of hymn to a lost dad. A–”
Entertainment Weekly

“Norman, an Englishman who established himself as an authority of the seminal British band with 1981’s Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, has written what amounts to chapter and verse on Lennon. His definitive biography draws impressively on exclusive and extensive interviews with Yoko Ono and, for the first time on the record, their son Sean… densely detailed, intricately woven and elegantly told, John Lennon: The Life neither condemns nor condones, nor does it consecrate its subject. It does, however, examine the lingering myths and uncomfortable realities of the life of Lennon – some of them shocking even today… Norman says he sought to portray Lennon candidly as ‘both a massive influence on twentieth-century culture and an ultimately adorable human being,’ and, tabloid headlines aside, he has succeeded.”
USA Today

“To Norman’s credit, the reader comes away from the multifaceted John Lennon feeling like he almost knew him — and that he probably wouldn’t have liked him if he did…The music…is where Norman — author of the definitive 1981 Beatle biography Shout!The Beatles in Their Generation — shines. In extravagant sentences, Norman revels in the single dimension of his subject that he unequivocally loves and appreciates. Such enthusiasm could be grating, but Norman’s is refreshing and heartening… Norman’s reconciliations of man and music comprise the most interesting passages.”

“This will surely come to be regarded as the definitive portrait of the Beatle. . .  Norman carries out the task with a kind of quiet heroism. Neither hagiography nor hatchet job, John Lennon: The Llife is beautifully written and acutely perceptive, and the story it has to tell is epic.”
The Independent

‘The most explosive rock story of the year... There is always an arresting new fact around the corner... John Lennon: The Life may be a warts-and-all kind of biography but it’s also respectful and affectionate... This is the best Lennon book so far.’
The Word (UK)

“Fascinating… Mr. Norman, author of the well-regarded Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, provides enormously detailed accounts of John’s childhood in middle-class Liverpool and his lifelong insecurities; the birth, rise and contentious death of the Beatles; and the Yoko years… Mr. Norman’s meticulous research includes Aunt Mimi’s papers and interviews with Ms. Ono, Beatles producer George Martin and Mr. McCartney. Each is positively represented… But in the end, neither Ms. Ono nor Mr. McCartney seemed pleased with Mr. Norman’s book. The reader should have no such problems.”
Dallas Morning News

“A highlight is the way Norman weaves in the intricate compositions Lennon wrote with his partner of approximately 12 years, Paul McCartney… He writes an intimate look at the fine balance between creativity, friendship and competing ambitions that defined their relationship. This book also draws on a great many sources, including the many people in John’s life, from the famous, to the forgotten. The information gleaned from Lennon’s many family members in Liverpool adds interesting elements as well to create a rich portrait of Lennon, (many) warts and all… Overall, this a moving tale of the formation of a complicated personality who touched the world, lifted it up and made it better.”

“It’s this level of detail that makes Norman’s 822 pages such compulsive reading.”
—Bloomberg News

“Norman (Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation) offers a grand, comprehensive, yet sprightly biography of the late Beatle. His sympathetic but sharp treatment captures Lennon’s charm and charisma, but also his cruelty to loved ones, his rebel posturings, his resentment of Paul McCartney’s matchless songwriting powers and growing dominance of the band, his debaucheries, his drunk and disorderlies, his shoplifting and his Oedipal yearnings. Norman is a smart analyst of pop music and its cultural setting and a scintillating miniaturist of Beatlemania…He manages the difficult trick of loving Lennon’s music without swooning over it… from Norman’s portrait, we see why so many consider him a soul mate.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This extensive, thoroughly researched biography traces the life of John Lennon, who, nearly 30 years after his murder, remains one of the most intriguing and respected figures in popular music. Novelist and biographer Norman, who recounted the story of the Beatles in Shout!, focuses here on Lennon’s life outside his legendary band… Lennon’s treatment of his discarded first wife and long-suffering, seafaring father are examined in rich detail, shedding new light on his complex personality… Exclusive new commentary from Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, and sundry confidants and family members provides fresh insight.”
Library Journal