Clinton Heylin is the author of Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, which I find the most useful of all the Dylan biographies. Among his other groundbreaking books, Heylin took on the jaw-dropping task of compiling a day-by-day Dylan chronology through the mid 90s and detailing Dylan's recording sessions through 1994. Heylin has made a compelling case to be considered the best Dylan researcher in the world.
In his new book, Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973 (Chicago Review Press), Heylin discusses Dylan's first 300 songs. The book is informative on every page. The songs are placed in the order in which they were written, not released. When the information is available, Heylin lists where the lyric for each song is published, its first known performance,and studio recordings and then offers some background and assessment. In many cases, the songs are either rumors or barely-known, such as the first song in the collection "Song to Brigit" written, according to guesswork, when Dylan was 15. Here is where Heylin shines, unearthing valuable information and compiling it in a way that makes the book an indispensable reference work for anyone seriously interested in Dylan.
I do have some quibbles with the book. I don't like Heylin's unpleasant penchant for denigrating other Dylan researchers. I wish that some of the songs were accompanied by more complete or revealing stories. For example, Heylin notes that Dylan wrote Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues in one night after Noel Stookey (Paul of Peter, Paul & Mary) showed him a newspaper story. But there's an important addition to the story. Stookey told me that it was because Dylan could write such a song and not just sing traditional songs that Stookey told Albert Grossman, his manager and soon Dylan's, to keep an eye on the young man. Similarly, there's more interesting material about "Blowin' in the Wind" than presented here. I differ with some of Heylin's analyses. I find him too willing to conclude that Dylan was simply after a feeling, an assertion that renders analysis at best useless and at worst an interference with the purity of the feeling.
But these are good kinds of arguments to have with a book. Heylin is himself argumentative, so he invites such wrestling with his work. What's important is that the book makes the wrestling worthwhile.