6 Great Books by Ukulele Playing Authors

Whether you’re spending your summer lounging on the beach or – like me – curled up in a darkened room praying for it to end, you’ll need a good book to read. If you’re looking for suggestions here are six great books by ukulele players. Some are ukulele related, some music related, some just excellent reads.

If you’re looking to improve your ukeing rather than your mind this summer I can highly (and self-interestedly) recommend Ukulele for Dummies and – for more advanced players – Ukulele Exercises for Dummies.

If you can recommend any other ukulelist authors or any good reads leave a comment.

Jim Tranquada and John King – The ‘Ukulele: A History

You can read my review of this book here. But the tl;dr version is: “It’s the best ukulele I’ve read. Buy it if you care at all about the history of the instrument.”

If you’ve heeded my previous calls to read this book you’ve got two follow ups:

– Another posthumous book co-written by John King this time with Tom Walsh: The Martin Ukulele: The Little Instrument That Helped Create a Guitar Giant. It’s only just come out and supply is limited. Amazon recently let me know I could expect mine sometime around the end of October.

– If you’re looking to fill in on wider Hawaiian history Sarah “off of This American Life” Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes. It’s informative, humorous and occasionally snarky. And it finishes up with a thought provoking comparison of IZ’s take on Over the Rainbow with his Hawai’i ’78.

On Amazon UK
On Amazon US

Charlie Connelly – Our Man in Hibernia: Ireland, the Irish and Me

As well as being a ukulelist and a top bloke Charlie Connelly is one of my favourite authors. If you’re into Bill Bryson’s understated humour and sharp observations you have to check out his books. They’re all great but the account of the move to his ancestral homeland of Ireland Our Man in Hibernia is my fave.

If you’re more into audiobooks then Charlie’s are a no brainer. Most of his books have been adapted for BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week and Attention All Shipping was voted second best audiobook of all time after Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

On Amazon UK
On Amazon US

Jem Roberts – The True History of the Blackadder

Speaking of Hitchhikers, ukulelist, Cilla coverer and historian of British comedy Jem Roberts is currently writing a guide to the Hitchhiker galaxy. While he’s working on that you should check out his guides to I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and Blackadder. Just in time for you to get the Prince George references on Twitter.

On Amazon UK
On Amazon US

Sylvie Simmons – I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen

Sylvie Simmons has been one of the top music journalists since the seventies. She’s interviewed the most important musicians of the last 40 years for all the rock magazines that matter.

Her latest book is a biography of Leonard Cohen. She’s been promoting it with performances of Leonard Cohen songs on her uke. Thus becoming the first person in history to do a ukulele cover of Cohen song that isn’t Hallelujah.

On Amazon UK
On Amazon US

Mark Wallington – The Uke of Wallington

After his blues band couldn’t get a gig Mark Wallington took refuge in the one place where musical ability is never a bar to performance: ukulele open mics. The Uke of Wallington tells of his trip around the country playing his uke at every open mic he could find.

This one was also a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. They clearly hold ukulelists in high regard.

On Amazon UK
On Amazon US

Vincent Cortese – Roy Smeck

Official Wizard of the Strings Roy Smeck was a master of the ukulele and an unsung hero of music. Vincent Cortese sets the record straight with a biography of the great man. Cortese was a student of Smeck so he can offer personal reminiscences as well as a thorough history.

On Amazon UK
On Amazon US

Have I missed someone out? Let me know in the comments.

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8 Comments

  1. phreddcatt July 25th, 2013 12:44 am

    Al, just finished Jim Tranquada and John King’s – The ‘Ukulele: A History and now I’m about half way the John King & Tom Walsh: The Martin Ukulele: The Little Instrument That Helped Create a Guitar Giant. I’m actually enjoying the Martin Uke book a little more. I got them both on Amazon and both came sooner than expected. Thanks for the other suggestions.

  2. Woodshed July 25th, 2013 6:49 am

    Phredd: I’m jealous! I hope Amazon hurries up and delivers my copy. Glad to hear it’s worth the wait.

  3. Ron Hale July 25th, 2013 7:51 pm

    English beaches being what they are your darkened room probably is a lot more fun, Al.

    It would have been nice to see a mention here of
    Ian Whitcomb’s latest book, “Ukulele Heroes.” Haven’t read it yet, but…

    It’s written by an author who can write both interestingly and amusingly rather than by a couple of academics who cannot.

    And that’s all that I’ll say here about the King/Tranquada history. Other than that I found it an overrated slog through ukulele micro-trivia that will be forgotten fifteen seconds after reading it.

    I care about ukulele history and couldn’t finish the book. But if you find textbooks engrossing then this is your cup of tea as this is a ukulele textbook.

    No doubt it will be used as such. For the uninitiated half the book is footnotes –
    the sure footprint of academics.

    Sylvie Simmons’ jibber-jabber in “Mighty Uke” about the importance of ukulele-playing rock stars to the current revival is absolute silliness.

    But I do like her way with Leonard Cohen songs.

    She should have worn her “I was in Mighty Uke and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” shirt.

  4. Woodshed July 25th, 2013 10:02 pm

    Ron: I haven’t read it either.

    It’s certainly detailed. But I found it easy to get through with some judicious skipping. And I’ll certainly take well annotated facts over the sort of bollocks that usually gets throw around.

  5. karl July 29th, 2013 2:29 pm

    No Jim Beloff’s Visual History of the Ukulele? That’s a shame. It’s thoroughly researched, better illustrated than any other ukulele book and acts as a companion to your and Tranquada’s books.

    The ukulele book by the late Daniel Dixon on the other hand isn’t much to write about, let alone read – except that it has nice hard covers.

    Thriller writer Jonathan Kellerman has a lavishly illustrated book on his antique guitar collection, ‘with strings attached’, that includes some speciale ukuleles as well.

    I would also refer to Gregg Miner’s Christmas double cd, which includes a booklet with lots of info on ukes.

    And then over the Channel, the late Cyril Lefebvre wrote to ukulele methods, both containing lots of information on the European and Tahition ukulele traditions. Truely recommended, and again well illustrated.

    Let’s see – I would love to include the ‘Early Methods’ facsimile compilation of early ukulele material, but technically it’s only edited by ukulele player Ron Middlebrook, not really written by him.

  6. Woodshed July 30th, 2013 6:02 am

    karl: Must admit Jim Beloff’s book completely escaped my mind. Thanks very much for the others. I’ll check them out.

  7. karl August 22nd, 2013 8:50 am

    And how could we forget ukulelezaza’s gorgeous Happy Days Are Here Again? At it’s core it’s a ukulele tab book with intermediate to advanced solo pieces, old and new, but it also contains some instrument history, a DVD and it’s beautifully published.

  8. Woodshed August 22nd, 2013 11:58 am

    karl: I was going for non-instruction books for this post.

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