Madonna, Tupac Shakur, George Harrison—name a more iconic trio. Few artists have had as lasting an impact on popular culture as Madge, Pac, and the Quiet Beatle. These new biographies, all out this week, offer a backstage pass into the lives of three of music's biggest and most enduring stars.

Madonna: A Rebel Life

Mary Gabriel. Little Brown, $38 (800p) ISBN 978-0-316-45647-0
Biographer Gabriel (Ninth Street Women) fastidiously captures the four-decade-plus career of a boundary-pushing star “who spoke her truth, took shit for it, and kept standing.” Ever since her childhood in Michigan, Madonna nurtured a love of music and performance, influenced by Detroit’s thriving Motown scene and such “revolutionary” pop girl groups as the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las. In 1978, at age 19, Madonna moved to New York City with $35 in cash and dreams of a dancing career, but later began pursuing music, first performing as the front woman of the band the Breakfast Club, and then going solo in 1982 after she was signed by Sire Records. From the start of her career, Madonna was fueled by an overwhelming determination to do and be more: “I always remembered Madonna as never being happy,” one friend recalls. “She always seemed like she was so impatient to move ahead.” That grit paid off with such early successes as 1984’s Like a Virgin, which debuted to scathing critical reviews but rave audience responses and went platinum after only three months, with three million album copies sold. Drawing on extensive research, Gabriel paints a satisfyingly nuanced portrait of a trailblazing musician who never shied from controversy, whether the issue was her “corsets and push-up bras and garter belts” that scandalized fans and enraged feminists or her 1980s advocacy for AIDS awareness. The singer’s myriad admirers won’t be disappointed. (Oct.)

Tupac Shakur: The Authorized Biography

Staci Robinson. Crown, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-1-52476-104-2
Robinson (Interceptions), a screenwriter and longtime friend of Tupac Shakur, traces the hip-hop star’s trials and triumphs in this riveting account. Inspired by his mother’s activism in the Black Panther movement, Tupac internalized a “revolutionary vigilance against a system complicit in keeping Black Americans powerless and poor,” a perspective that inspired the “compelling poetry and lyrics” he “share[d] with the world” as he rocketed to stardom in the early 1990s. Robinson also delves into Tupac’s training as an actor alongside Jada Pinkett at Baltimore’s School for the Arts, and his dreams of writing, producing, and directing documentaries and films. Among other controversies, Robinson details an incident in which the album 2Pacalypse Now (1991) came in for criticism from Vice President Dan Quayle for its anti-police lyrics, causing Tupac to worry “he could no longer express himself in the raw and uncut way he wanted to—without the white man’s approval.” She ends the account in the Las Vegas hospital room where Tupac died in 1996. Avoiding speculation about the circumstances of his unsolved murder, Robinson instead sets out a faithful and detailed portrait of an artist dedicated to helping “others achieve freedom from oppression.” Enriched by invaluable excerpts from the rapper’s notebooks and sketch pads, this will have hip-hop devotees enthralled. (Oct.)

George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle

Philip Norman. Scribner, $35 (480p) ISBN 978-1-9821-9586-1
Following up biographies of two of the Fab Four (Paul McCartney and John Lennon), Norman turns his attention to George Harrison in this uneven and exhausting account. Self-described as “the quiet Beatle,” Harrison was a musician with a keen ear rather than a penchant for flashy guitar solos—an understated quality that sometimes left him devalued by the group and its fans, according to Norman. After the band met with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the head of the Spiritual Regeneration movement, in 1967, Harrison grew enamored with meditation and began to feel the Beatles were holding him back spiritually. Once the group split, he became famously reclusive—gardening and meditating, but also producing solo albums, including 1970’s All Things Must Pass, that sold better than those of John and Paul. Norman rushes through Harrison’s solo career, his divorce from Pattie Boyd, and his later marriage to Olivia Arias, while rehashing familiar stories and piling on laborious detail (as when describing the apartment that John shared with Stu Sutcliffe, where “ ‘college band’ rehearsal would often turn into one of John’s informal tutorials from Stu on anything from van Gogh and Benvenuto Cellini to Jack Kerouac, James Joyce, Kierkegaard or Sartre, and George, with his abhorrence of book learning, would feel himself excluded in yet another way”). This bloated biography is nonessential for all but the most devoted Beatles fans. (Oct.)