Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel
His Life and Our Times
by Glen Jeansonne, David Luhrssen, and Dan Sokolovic
February 2011, 232pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-35904-0
$49, £37, 43€, A67
eBook Available: 978-0-313-35905-7
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

“Before Elvis there was nothing,” John Lennon famously said. Few performers have been as influential as the man whose sexy voice, good looks, and gyrating hips redefined rock ’n roll. Although he made many poor choices and died far too young, Elvis Presley lives on for legions of fans and generations of musicians.

This fresh interpretation explains how an untutored musician changed music while at the same time playing an inadvertent role in the youth rebellion that has shaped the Baby Boomer generation into the 21st century.

Elvis Aaron Presley was born in a two-room house in Tupelo, MS, on January 8, 1935. He died at his Memphis home, Graceland, on August 16, 1977. In those 42 years, Elvis made an indelible impression on pop culture the world over. Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times probes both the man and his influence, delving deeply into the personality of its protagonist, his needs and motivations, and the social and musical forces that shaped his career.

Elvis’s musical talents and liabilities are explored, as are his records, films, and live performances and his relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, whom he allowed to manipulate him as a money-making machine. Readers will learn about Elvis’s personal life, his devotion to conventional religious and political beliefs, and his decline into self-destruction and death. Finally, the book explores Elvis’s impact on the musical and racial revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s, his legacy, and his importance in shaping a generation of Baby Boomers.


  • Photographs
  • A bibliography
Glen Jeansonne, PhD, is professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, and holds a PhD in history from Florida State University. His publications include A Time of Paradox: America since 1890; Women of the Far Right: The Mothers' Movement and World War II; Huey at 100: Centennial Essays on Huey P. Long; Gerald L. K. Smith: Minister of Hate; and Leander Perez: Boss of the Delta.Jeansonne has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has won a Gustavus Myers Prize, as well as the award for Best Academic Book by a Wisconsin Author. Jeansonne won two teaching awards at his university, a Lifetime Research Award and a Career Award for Accomplishments in Louisiana History and won a Presidential Scholars Award from LSU-Shreveport.

David Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor at the Shepherd Express. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and Milwaukee Area Technical College, and has lectured at Marquette University and Beloit College. Luhrssen is coauthor of several books, including Changing Times: The Life of Barack Obama; Searching for Rock and Roll; and A Time of Paradox: America since 1890, and has been published in Historically Speaking, History Today, and other journals. Luhrssen received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in history at UW-Milwaukee.

Dan Sokolovic is a writer, editor, and magazine owner interested in cultural influences and their relationship to American popular culture and music. He is a PhD candidate in history—modern studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, specializing in post-1945 popular music in the Midwest.


"Considering how much has been written about Elvis Presley, is another book about him really necessary? In this case, the answer is an emphatic yes. Presenting a subject dear to their hearts, Jeansonne, Luhrssen, and Sokolovic offer a well-researched, entertaining volume that provides fascinating insights into Presley's life, his accomplishments, and the culture that formed him. . . . Because it is both engaging and carefully documented, the volume will serve a broad audience."—Choice, September 1, 2011

"In Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel, the little boy from Tupelo who could, Elvis Aaron Presley, finally has the chance to shine through and break the yellowed, cracked veneer that is the Golden Tomb of the American Dream. In the war between Elvis fact and fiction, this highly entertaining and lovingly researched book details the historic, spiritual and commercial aspects of America's Mystery Son, Elvis Presley."—Victor DeLorenzo, Actor, Writer, Director, Percussionist and Founding Member of the Folk/Punk Sensation, Violent Femmes

"Elvis Presley is an enigma regarding music history and popular culture or, rather, he has been up until this book. Other Presley titles get it wrong, do not get it or get far too much of it; this text stabilizes historical record and cultural import with accurately balanced scholarship and insightfully measured commentary. Elvis Presley finally becomes rightfully balanced within musical and cultural contexts in Elvis Presley: Reluctant Rebel." —Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum, Senior Lecturer, Music History and Literature, Music Department, Peck School of the Arts, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Rounder Records recording artist

"From Elvis' early life singing gospel music, to the glory days at Sam Phillip's Sun label, to the glitzy, pill-popping tragic end in Las Vegas, Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel captures it all. A wonderfully written book, it encapsulates the humanity, the excesses, and the inimitable style of 'the King.' "—Hal Elliott Wert, Kansas City Art Institute, and Author of Hope: A Collection of Obama Posters and Prints

"Glen Jeansonne and David Luhrssen’s Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel is a deeply researched, richly detailed account of the life of one of America’s most famous entertainers. Elvis’ meteoric rise and the years that followed are covered thoroughly in this fast-paced narrative. What will set this study apart from others examining the life of Elvis is the rich social and cultural history found in it, as well as the historical perspective with which the authors surround their subject."—Paul George, Professor of History, Miami Dade College and Author

"As he has done many times in the past, Glen Jeansonne has brought his formidable research skills and his poetic prose to a subject that less thoughtful historians might pass by. Once again, he has shown us that the direction of our culture rests with those who have touched our collective experiences in a wide variety of ways."—Ronald H. Snyder, PhD, Instructor, Department of History, Milwaukee Area Technical College

"Elvis Presley: Reluctant Rebel reminds us of Elvis' singular talents as well as his southern roots and national context. It demystifies the Elvis mythology and replaces anecdotes with facts. The book is as important as it is engaging and entertaining, correctly placing its subject within the stream of mid-twentieth-century American popular culture, and it reminds us that although Elvis often shaped his times, he also reflected them."—Michael S. Martin, SLEMCO/Board of Regents Professor in Liberal Arts; Interim Managing Editor, Louisiana History; Associate Professor of History, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

"This is a finely written and well researched look at one of America's most beloved icons. While delving into the existing literature on Elvis, Jeansonne, Luhrrsen, and Sokolovic have also uncovered fresh material and fashioned a poignant and convincing portrait. The authors' insights, the clarity of their prose, and their devotion to the subject matter—which they make clear is born of their own coming-of-age—make this an imminently readable book." —Jeannie Whayne, Author and Professor, Department of History, University of Arkansas
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