Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story
By Bono
Knopf, 2022

Bono — U2’s lead singer and activist — has a new memoir. It’s called “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story,” which hints at the book’s structure: each of forty chapters is named after a U2 song. Some chapters are explicitly about a song — its writing and/or meaning — whereas others are about related ideas.

The book’s key themes are about relationships: with his parents (especially his father, Bob Hewson,) his spouse, Ali, his bandmates (not just U2; Bono considers his other initiatives as “bands,”) and — perhaps most importantly — Jesus.

Bono writes well but can sometimes be a bit bombastic and over the top. (If you know U2, that shouldn’t be surprising.) Still, the book is worth your attention, even if you’re not into their music; there are valuable lessons for everyone. Here I’ll call out three.

Mind the business

Bono recalls a poignant conversation with Prince, who regretted signing away his music rights early in his career. U2 didn’t — and made a fortune. It was one of many smart decisions due to the foresight of their manager, Paul McGuiness.

McGuiness taught the band that art and business are inseparable. To have real impact, you must understand negotiation and operations. Alternatively — as in U2’s case — partner with someone who does. If not for McGuiness’s business savvy, few would have heard of U2.

Have a higher calling

Bono’s faith is a key motivator and source of coherence in his life. Many U2 songs have strong moral centers, and social justice is an essential driver for his non-profit work in AIDS and poverty relief.

These sound like platitudes, but there are times in everyone’s life when our will and commitment are tested. In challenging moments, Bono continually returns to his higher calling, which keeps him on track.

Open the door to compromise

Such challenging moments include working with political and ideological antagonists. For example, in trying to drive change as an activist, Bono negotiated with several U.S. administrations — including President George W. Bush’s during the Iraq war.

An anecdote from Dr. Martin Luther King showed Bono how to find points of agreement. Looking to compromise with opponents without losing our moral center is essential, especially in this era of extremism and us-versus-them thinking. The book offers good examples.

There’s a lot more in “Surrender.” Bono can be hilarious and sometimes profound. And while it’s hard to relate to hanging out with famous people, we’re also reminded that rock stars also fart after eating Mexican food for breakfast.

At a minimum, the book is very entertaining. I recommend it as an audiobook; it’s read by Bono himself (who, among his other talents, is also an uncanny impressionist) and includes music and sound effects.

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