James Kaplan – Irving Berlin

A fast-moving, musically astute portrait of arguably the greatest composer of American popular music

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) has been called – by George Gershwin, among others – the greatest songwriter of the golden age of the American popular song. “Berlin has no place in American music,” legendary composer Jerome Kern wrote; “He is American music.” In a career that spanned an astonishing nine decades, Berlin wrote some 1,500 tunes, including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “God Bless America”, and “White Christmas”. From ragtime to the rock era, Berlin’s work has endured in the very fiber of American national identity.

Exploring the intertwining of Berlin’s life with the life of New York City, noted biographer James Kaplan offers a visceral narrative of Berlin as self-made man and witty, wily, tough Jewish immigrant. This fast-paced, musically opinionated biography uncovers Berlin’s unique brilliance as a composer of music and lyrics. Masterfully written and psychologically penetrating, Kaplan’s book underscores Berlin’s continued relevance in American popular culture.

Author: James Kaplan
Narrator: L. J. Ganser
Duration: 11 hours 8 minutes
Released: 19 May 2011
Publisher: Recorded Books
Language: English

User Review:

soloist grave

Comparing this book to Wasson’s Bob Fosse biography may be unfair, as Improv Nation lacks the high concept structure and focus of his previous book. Still, both provide historical overviews of uniquely American modes of performance that have shaped pop culture over the course of a half century. Wasson excels at expanding upon key moments of innovation that shaped comedy rather than providing a laundry list of achievement. He also locates important creative tensions (both interpersonal and internal) to situate the joys and frustrations that have accompanied the evolution and popularity of improv. This is not a book that overwhelms with research and new knowledge, but a well crafted snapshot connecting differing eras and artists. Improv Nation is about the continuum of improv comedy from Nichols and May to the likes of Stephen Colbert and Judd Apatow. It is thoughtful, funny, and well told.

Great performance by David de Vries. His narration handles difficult deliveries of sketch material and characterizations that would have led to a train wreck for most audiobook performers. He handles them with gusto, avoiding both understatement and showy impression.