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Book Review: 'Tom Petty and Philosophy'

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


Tom Petty’s song “Won’t Back Down” is the first I can remember by the artist, while “Free Falling” is my favorite of his works. However, his music career began well before I arrived in the world. “Tom Petty and Philosophy” is a timely work, released not long after Tom Petty’s death. What does this book provide for Tom Petty fans and philosophers alike?

The Cover of "Tom Petty and Philosophy"

The Cover of "Tom Petty and Philosophy"

About "Tom Petty and Philosophy: We Need to Know"

Chapter 1 discusses Tom Petty as a distillation of post-modernism. It ends up arguing that he’s his own simulacrum, an endless recreation that surpasses the original. That definitely pays homage to the musician.

Chapter 2 looks at Tom Petty’s album “Echo”. That was Petty’s own attempt to look back on the past for grounding in the middle of his personal turmoil. The chapter delves into how “Echo” achieves this both through its music and its lyrics.

Chapter 3 is an analysis of Tom Petty’s videos from 1979 to 1993. It is worth a read simply for the music history lesson it contains of modern rock. Aside from that is the relationship between Tom Petty’s works and the work of Batalle.

Chapter 4 ties Tom Petty’s music to the Greek ideals of music, the extremes of Apollo and Dionysus. Nietzsche’s views of music are thrown in there, too.

Chapter 5, “Boys of Summer”, starts off with an imagined post-death interview of Tom Petty. It then analyzes the song “Boys of Summer”.

Chapter 6 starts with the unique, introspective nature of the unrequited lover presented in the Tom Petty song “Insider”. It then launches into an analysis of how often we really don’t know our lovers and why we think we do. It returns to discuss the existential agony of the singer’s persona at never having known the lover but assuming he did.

Chapter 7 is a review of the godmothers and women of rock and roll. It then discusses how feminist Tom Petty’s body of work is, especially in comparison to other rock bands of the time.

Chapter 8 is called “Tom Petty Didn’t Really Need to Know”. Here, Tom Petty’s desire for knowledge, whether self-knowledge or knowledge of others’ feelings, is paralleled to Descartes, Pyrrhonian sceptics, and Buddhism.

Chapter 9 takes the metaphorical high road by comparing the ways the road of life and daily climb up that hill to Tom Petty’s songs. This includes time, life and predestination.

Chapter 10 discusses the philosophy of liminal moments, the moments our awareness changes from subconscious or unawareness to awareness, as well as many such presentations in Tom Petty’s music. There is also a discussion on how Tom Petty’s music tells people to face the truth, own it, and then do whatever is right and/or necessary. This same chapter links Tom Petty’s music to phenomenology, the definition of assholes and the rejection of the worst philosophers in history who backed Nazi ideology.

Chapter 11 is an in-depth discussion on how Tom Petty’s highest value was the artistic freedom to create the music he wanted to create, and unusual for any mainstream musician, intentionally gave up money to create what he wanted and deliver it to fans for a reasonable price. The only flaw here is quoting the Communist Manifesto as a serious economic theory. It asks and then answers the question, “What is artistic genius?” before going into the war Petty fought over a one dollar price increase on his next album.

Chapter 12 is, at its core, a philosophical discussion on the economics of music. It also discusses the literal price Petty paid several times for fighting for his artistic freedom and keeping songs affordable so they were accessible.

Chapter 13 is another look at the legal fights Petty fought against various music labels and his reasons why.

Chapter 14 shifts gears and asks what rebellion is and what it looks like for musicians – and what made Tom Petty a musical rebel.

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Chapter 15 presents the epistemology of Tom Petty’s career and how his music provided four decades of commentary on American culture. The subsection on “Power Drunk” reminds me of Stephan Molyneux’s belief that many in power are adrenaline addicts.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for a review.


This is a 5 star book for Tom Petty fans, a 4 star work for philosophy majors. This book is a must-read for intellectual Tom Petty fans. It is a good choice for classic rock fans and philosophy fans who want to see the intersection of pop culture and deep cultural analysis.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Tamara Wilhite


Lora Hollings on February 18, 2019:

Thank you Tamara for a wonderful very in-depth review of a great musician whose music revealed a philosopher at heart who like his music kept evolving and had much to say about our culture and ourselves. I really enjoyed your article and based on your review, I will have to check this book out.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on February 18, 2019:


Tamara. I enjoyed this article.

Tom seemed to have never wanted the glory and shine of some other musicians. I love many of his tunes, particularly the one about living like rfugees.

Great review of this book. I may look at it at some point.

Superb work as always.

To a talented and fun to read author,

May your day be peaceful.

Much respect,


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