U2: Rock ’n’ Roll to Change the World

U2’s significant career far exceeds that of most average successful rock bands, with a prolific output of thirteen well-received studio albums and a sometimes relentless touring schedule. The band is famous for uniquely drawing together music, art, faith, and activism, all within a lucrative career that has given each of these elements an unusual degree of social and cultural resonance. Broad-minded musically and intellectually, U2’soutput is thematically rich, addressing a slew of topics, from questions of faith to anxieties about commercialism to outright political statements.


With one of the largest fan bases in the history of rock music, U2 and their work require contextualization and exploration. In U2: Rock ’n’ Roll to Change the World, Timothy D. Neufeld takes up this challenge. Neufeld explores U2’s move from the youthful idealism of a band barely able to play instruments through its many phases of artistic expression and cultural engagement to its employment of faith and activism as a foundation for its success. This book outlines how U2 reshaped the very musical and even political culture that had originally shaped it, demonstrating through close readings of its musical work the dynamic interplay of artistic expression and social engagement.

What the critics are saying

  • U2 have always been more than a band. Tim Neufeld examines the history of faith, idealism and activism that has inspired one of rock’s most dedicated and charitably engaged fan bases. The result is a fascinating, unusual, thorough and thoughtful study of U2’s interaction with the wider world. Music is only the beginning.

    -Neil McCormick, music journalist, author and U2 biographer

  • Perhaps no other musical artists in contemporary memory have had a more indelibly symbiotic relationship with culture—as creators, shapers, consumers, and critics—than U2. Professor Neufeld explores that relationship with a boundless curiosity matched by his passion for music born of Dublin's North Side in the midst of the Troubles that has shone (and continues to shine) a spotlight on fierce grace and hope for generations of fans around the globe.

    -Cathleen Falsani, journalist, ONE.org Girls and Women advisory board member and author of The God Factor

  • First-time author Neufeld, a professor of biblical and religious studies at Fresno Pacific University, maintains that through an “ever-changing interplay of artistic expression and social engagement,” U2 has blended “spiritual faith and social activism since its 1980 debut album.” Going from the band’s early days in 1970s Dublin to its 2015 tour, Neufeld provides a detailed history of the band members’ growth as musicians and their various attempts at political and social activism. Sometimes, his observations are aptly concise: “While U2 in the 1980s had been consumed with global justice and conflicts in distant places such as El Salvador and South Africa, the U2 of the 1990s focused on the inner demons of greed, list, addiction, and hypocrisy.” At other times, Neufeld is unrestrained in his belief in U2’s spiritual importance: “U2 has developed a unique integration of faith and culture that transcends traditional approaches to popular religious music by engaging the world.” Despite some bombast, Neufeld succeeds in his goal of showing how pop musicians can help shape culture.

    Publishers Weekly, April 2017

  • In 1976, four Dublin teenagers formed a band and changed the world. Thanks to the humanitarianism of their front man, the Irish band U2 is as famous for its political activism as for its music. Neufeld examines these and many other angles in this thoughtful account, tracking the lives of Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, and natural showman and leader Paul Hewson, who soon earned the sobriquet 'Bono.' Neufeld describes their experimentation with different sounds and the success of their passionate live shows. Early on, their music championed equality and social-justice issues, fused with a profound commitment (by three of the four members) to the Christian communal movement. Neufeld examines the effect of Ireland’s complicated political and religious history on the musicians; traces the growth of the band; follows its various musical shifts as band members reacted to the world’s changing political landscape; and, finally, finds the band searching for relevancy in the early years of the twenty-first century. The book concludes with an annotated list of U2’s recordings and concert films. A must for U2 fans.

    Booklist, April 2017

  • Neufeld’s writing style is accessible and free of jargon; the book doesn’t presume any previous knowledge of U2’s history…. Relatively new fans would do well to read U2: Rock ‘n’ Roll to Change the World next. I hope some of those fans will then respond to Neufeld’s implicit invitation to keep filling in the spaces, to help us enjoy and understand U2 from a wide variety of perspectives

    The U2 Conference, September 2017

Table of Contents

Series Editor Foreword
Introduction: Rock ’n’ Roll Can Change the World?
Chapter 1: Growing Up In Ireland
Chapter 2: Innocence and Idealism
Chapter 3: Into the Arms of America
Chapter 4: Irony and Theatricality
Chapter 5: Rage Can Only Take You So Far
Chapter 6: New Horizons
Chapter 7: Faith and Art
Chapter 8: Social Engagement
Selected Reading
Selected Listening
About the Author

Book Details

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 238 • Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-4939-4 • Hardback • April 2017 • $40.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-4940-0 • eBook • April 2017 • $39.99 • (£24.95) (coming soon)
Series: Tempo: A Rowman & Littlefield Music Series on Rock, Pop, and Culture
Subjects: Music / Individual Composer & Musician, Music / General, Music / Genres & Styles / Rock, Music / History & Criticism, Social Science / Popular Culture

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