By Ken Tucker
Updated June 30, 2009 at 07:54 PM EDT
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If you’re looking for something to read about Michael Jackson that will give you some insight into the man’s talent and life, I recommend these three very different books:

1. The Michael Jackson Story, by Nelson George. First published in 1984 as a paperback quickie, The Michael Jackson Story is actually a first-rate cultural study by the journalist-critic-historian Nelson George. George draws on his deep knowledge of soul and rhythm & blues, along with lots of original reporting, to place Jackson in the history of popular music in a lively, exciting way.

2. Trapped: Michael Jackson and the Crossover Dream, by Dave Marsh. A 1985 book by the well-known rock critic that argues that Jackson’s background as an abused child and his subsequent attempts to live in a safe, self-contained world of Peter Pan-like surroundings, trapped him in an artistically limiting way. Despite being critical of many of Jackson’s decisions and those of the people surrounding him, Trapped also brims over with love and knowledge of Jackson’s music, and offers some of the finest analyses ever about what made Jackson’s hits work, and why his best music is so brilliant.

3. Moonwalk, by Michael Jackson. This 1988 autobiography was a typical bit of non-music Jackson product. Which is to say, it was marketed as a revealing tell-all but published mostly to promote his then-new album Bad, while trying assiduously to reveal as little as possible. Filled with banalities such as “The price of fame can be a heavy one” and “It hurts to be mobbed,” Moonwalk ultimately cannot help but disclose more than its author intended. His chronicles of his upbringing under the brutal hand of his father Joe are far more poignant and painful than he alluded to in the TV documentary Life With Michael Jackson. And Michael’s discussions of his show-biz models — what he calls “the real showmen: James Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr., Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly” — are fascinating. The book also captures Jackson’s contradictions, such as when he speaks of his muscial achievements and his multi-million-dollar contracts for Pepsi-Cola commercials with equal pride. It’s a rare peek into the way Jackson’s mind worked.

Have you read any of these? Are there other books about Jackson you’d recommend?