U2 The Complete Encyclopedia

This is a review of the book U2 The Complete Encyclopedia by Mark Chatterton.

The thing about an encyclopedia is that it is out of date the moment it is printed. This wasn’t a bad thing in the old days, when you would buy the set of family encyclopedias for your first child, and they would last twenty years until your last child got out of college. The facts in those days didn’t seem to change as quickly as they do today (not that I was around in those days). People would put their set of encyclopedias on their shelves in their living room, and they would be a source of pride that your family was educated.

Nowadays we carry an encyclopedia in our pockets, and have them sitting on our desks at home and at work. And they’re up to date, literally to the minute in many cases. Next time there’s a major event happening somewhere, try looking it up on Wikipedia, you’ll often see the latest happenings being updated as you read. Just now I checked U2 on Wikipedia, the page is updated to say that the tour started on May 14, which is not such a recent thing (two weeks ago), but they have an Innocence + Experience Tour page, and frankly I was surprised to see that the table of tour dates hasn’t been updated - the attendance column hasn’t been filled in for the first few shows yet. Normally you get something like that right away, especially for sports teams. As an example of that, my favorite soccer team, Arsenal, on their page their game on Sunday was updated that day on Wikipedia.

All that just so I can talk about this book, U2 The Complete Encyclopedia. You can imagine the first thing I’m going to say, right? That it’s out of date. In fact the book was published in 2001, so you can tell that it’s missing the last fourteen years of the band’s history, or roughly a third of their careers. It’s not the book’s fault of course, it’s just the nature of things. If you want to write a book that doesn’t go out of date, write about something a hundred years old, not something current.

But I shouldn’t complain that much. What I should really look at is the quality of the information, and ignoring any of it that might have become outdated. I did that with some of the previous books I reviewed, and noted that they were great point in time books, reviews of specific sets of years in the band’s history. This is the same, although not so much of the detail that those books had, by nature of being an encyclopedia. It doesn’t cover stories in twelve pages, it covers them in twelve items per page.

So looking at the book that way, I have some issues with it. Typos for one, I’m the kind of person who spots them from a mile off (he says, having barely checked his own blog the last five months), and without being too picky, I think I can spot one every few pages, which is disruptive to me. Or topics, there’s an entry about The Joshua Trio, a U2 cover band. Not sure that’s necessary. Or how about all the variations of songs? Ten entries for Staring At The Sun, as an example, because they break them out to all the different editions and bits and pieces. Could or should have been done in one entry, I think, which could have noted the differences.

So having said all that, I do agree that it is a good book about U2 up until 2001. I have also used it somewhat regularly this year, looking for notes about different things. It’s not something I have sat down and read cover to cover, but I have flipped through now and again. As always, good for the completist, but also good if you just want to find a random fact now and then.

My rating for U2 The Complete Encyclopedia: 5 / 10