Few bands in the history of rock have a more complicated genealogy than the mighty Led Zeppelin, the pitiless thunder gods of 1970s blues-heavy proto-metal who came and conquered, before losing the seemingly indestructible John Bonham to excessive drinking and stopping cold turkey. The job of making sense of it all falls to veteran music scribe Dave Thompson, whose latest book is an immersive exploration of a tangled rock-and-roll ancestry and yet, true to Thompson’s irreverent manner and devilishly clever writing style, it’s not at all stuffy or pedantic. Even while studying both Zeppelin’s DNA and that of its vast progeny with a scrupulous eye for detail, Thompson breathes new life into what had become a dusty, lifeless history, allowing it to unfold in the most remarkably casual manner.

One of Thompson’s greatest strengths as a writer lies in making connections that not everybody sees and then weaving disparate strands of information and insight into entertaining, gently provocative prose. And although “If You Like Led Zeppelin …” has the potential to start some heated arguments, it also slyly eats away at the Zeppelin mystique without thoroughly destroying it, and for that, it deserves acclaim. Thompson is practically embedded with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones in the studio as they grinded out their early session work, and when it comes to hacking through the unruly story of the Yardbirds and all their personnel changes, Thompson is the perfect guide, pointing out the not-so-obvious key events and turning points in their brief, but influential, existence. Similarly, he transports readers back to the vibrant music scenes of late-1960s England – the British blues boom drawing particular interest – that feed Zeppelin’s esoteric tastes, while never shying away from the less savory and downright despicable aspects of the band’s wilder adventures. Legendary for his anger, John Bonham, as Thompson writes, is said to have once held a man over a balcony, 20 floors from the ground, by his ankles after the unfortunate bloke made a joke about drummers. And you thought only hip-hop moguls pulled those kinds of reckless stunts.

Ah, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, though, and this is, for the most part, a celebration of Zeppelin’s genius and what artists – including folk (Roy Harper, most of all) and blues (Howlin’ Wolf, in particular) legends – left their mark on the collective consciousness of Page, Bonham, Jones and Robert Plant. Casting his net far and wide, Thompson illuminates Zeppelin’s relationships – however slight or indirect – with everybody from Jeff Beck to Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green, John Mayall, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Fairport Convention, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, and Cliff Richard, to name but a few. Even bit players like Mickie Most – a minor figure to most, although many will surely recognize the name and know his place in rock history – find themselves written about extensively in Thompson’s tome, as anecdotes about the inner workings of the music business are discussed with a mixture of levity and dead seriousness.

Only 188 pages in length, “If You Like Led Zeppelin …” has more to offer than dry facts and faded nostalgia. Along with an objective autopsy of Zeppelin’s Swan Song, the vanity label they started at a time when everybody was doing it, Thompson lists his 40 favorite Zeppelin covers and surveys their TV and movie appearances – material that, while mildly interesting, seems very much like filler. Nonetheless, Thompson’s work, while far from comprehensive, is a ripping yarn, well-paced and informative. Spreading its seed far and wide, Zeppelin influenced everybody from Soundgarden to Heart, Whitesnake, the Black Crowes and all those denim-and-leather-clad hellions of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, along with countless others. In turn, Bonzo, Jones, Page and Plant had their own spirit guides from the worlds of the blues, folk and other ethnic traditions, and Thompson has tied it all together in a neat little package.

Label: Backbeat Books. Full title is: If You Like Led Zeppelin… Here Are Over 200 Bands, Films, Records, and Other Oddities That You Will Love. You can purchase it in paperback format here.