Achtung Baby (book)

This is a review of the book Achtung Baby by Stephen Catanzarite, not the U2 album.

Oddly enough, the opening line of this book is “This is not a book about U2.” If that seems confusing, it is, because the title, cover, and at least some of the content is about U2. But the content is about a lot more than U2, and somehow the book manages to end up not being as much about U2 as you would imagine.

The book is part of a series called 33 1/3, which are short (just over 100 pages in this case) books about various albums by different bands. I’m not sure what the rest of the books are about, but having read this one, I’m sure I won’t be reading any of the others. I’d guess that U2 would be one of the more popular bands in the series, and I don’t know if many U2 fans would be going to get other books in the series after reading this one.

To be fair to the author, he specifically points out at the start that he won’t be talking about the band. They might have mentioned that somewhere else, say on the front or back cover, so that people wouldn’t be misled into buying it. The author treats us to an extended view of the Fall of Man, and lightly wraps parts of the story around Achtung Baby. It ends up being a deeply religious book, which is fine if that’s the topic you thought you were buying.

Having said all that, I do think it presents an interesting interpretation of the album, although he twists many of the songs to fit his own narrative. The best example is right at the start, when he uses Zoo Station as symbolizing Adam and Eve being thrown out of heaven, turning into a regular couple and riding a train into town, where they begin to see the world having turned into a nightmare. The rest of the songs are used in a similar way to fit this story, which twists and turns as needed. The only song he really gets right is Until The End Of The World, which Bono himself has said is about a conversation between Jesus and Judas. Ironically though, in the book the author has to pull us out of his ongoing story to talk about the one part he is tune with the band about.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean this book is worth buying for a U2 fan. He has short sections that are actually about the songs - and he appears to be quite critical of the music at times - and fills out the rest with his religious interpretation and storyline. I would guess that maybe ten percent of the book is about U2 or their songs. There is a chapter at the end which is essentially a summary of U2’s career, but nothing in it is news for the more than casual U2 fan, and if you’re interested there are many better books out there for that.

This book is, therefore, not for the regular U2 fan. If you are a highly religious U2 fan, you would probably get something out of it. If you’re religious and want to know more about U2, you might, although I think there are better books for that too. And if you want an opinion of the book that appears to be a long way out of the mainstream, you might try it. But for anyone else, not recommended unless you’re an absolute U2 completist.

My rating for Achtung Baby (book): 1 / 10