Johnny Cash: The Life is a carefully researched and skillfully written book that shows a deeply flawed man who hung on to the grace of God with all he had. Hilburn’s book helps us understand how the man who wrote “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” in “Folsom Prison Blues” could also sing and speak at dozens of Billy Graham crusades. He lets us see a man who was addicted to amphetamines but also wanted, more than anything, to bring lost souls to Jesus.
Hilburn’s writing is crisp. The stories of Cash’s youth in Arkansas and of his early years as a struggling singer give great in-depth background for understanding the man and his music. The chapters on the last few years of Cash’s life, his final Grammy-winning recordings, and the death of his wife, June Carter Cash, which was followed closely by his own, are written with great care and respect. When June died and Cash was asked if he could find the faith to get through this, he responded, “My faith is unshakable.” The Life is a rich and thoughtful look at a groundbreaking artist and a complex man. (Little, Brown)