Irving Berlin: New York Genius

Yale. (Jewish Lives). Nov. 2019. 424p. notes. index. ISBN 9780300180480. $26. MUSIC
Genius is the operative word. The latest entry in the “Jewish Lives” series tackles perhaps the most prolific and important composer and lyricist in U.S. history, Irving Berlin (1888–1989). With a career that spanned the greater part of the 20th century, Berlin wrote more than 1,000 songs, including “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz”; won Academy, Tony, and Grammy awards; and has secured a position as perhaps the preeminent contributor to the American Songbook. Kaplan, no stranger to daunting subjects (his Frank Sinatra biography is considered definitive), has written an extensively researched, entertaining, and nuanced account that contextualizes Berlin’s story and achievements within the scope of Jewish immigrant New York and modern American popular culture.
VERDICT An excellent addition to the Berlin biographical bookshelf and a mandatory acquisition for all American music and popular culture collections.
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