Few books merit 500-plus pages, least of all one devoted to a mere four years in the recent history of the band U2. Musician magazine editor Bill Flanagan has the smarts, the history (he first interviewed the band in 1980), and the connections (full access to U2) to write a definitive U2 biography, something that has yet to be done well. Instead, U2 at the End of the World is a rambling travelogue with so much extraneous detail and armchair philosophizing that the story of ''the biggest band in the world'' reads like a homework assignment.
Flanagan avoids the typical pitfalls of the sensationalist rock biography (bassist Adam Clayton's stormy affair with Naomi Campbell is as juicy as it gets here). He reports colorfully on torturous recording sessions and hectic concert tours, evoking U2's democratic collaborative style and observing ''the bisected hemispheres of the band brain Edge on the left, Bono on the right.'' But the book is bloated, nonetheless, with tangential blather, from loving profiles of U2's security team to earnest summaries of Cold War politics to tales of Clayton's penchant for farting in elementary school. There's plenty of material here for an excellent book even a full-blown biography but this one, badly in need of editing, never quite takes shape in the quagmire of Flanagan's discursive mind. B-