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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2019 James Kaplan (P)2019 Recorded Books

What listeners say about Irving Berlin

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The Greatest Songwriter?

Even during his lifetime, Irving Berlin's peers -- and competitors -- often marveled at the cleverness of his lyrics and the excellence and emotional power of his music. For a guy with no training, who could only write music using mostly the black keys, and whose singing voice was high and weak, Irving Berlin's career was incredible in his level of success and in the extraordinary length of his songwriting career.

His celebration of ragtime in Alexander's Ragtime Band (which is NOT a ragtime number; it's a march) was such a huge hit that people in many places, especially Britain, thought that Irving Berlin had invented ragtime music. Within a few years, he found a way to write in every new genre that came along -- swing, country, and the pop standards of the Great American Songbook. Not until disco, punk, and rap did he decide that a sixty-plus-year career was long enough. Even then, his songs remain astonishingly popular: God Bless America. There's No Business Like Show Business. White Christmas. Songs that everybody knows, even if they don't know who wrote them.

James Kaplan captures Berlin's life and his music, and even though L.J. Ganser can only recite the song lyrics in this audiobook, that's enough; indeed, it's better, because we really hear the words when they're read to us rather than sung. And even though Berlin got a reputation for grumpiness later in life, we get to meet him during the years of his courageous and likeable spunk, attributes that brought him to success in a business that chewed up and spat out most talented newcomers. So by the end, we listeners love him and his music, and I, for one, was glad that he didn't die young like Lorenz Hart, Moss Hart, George Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II; Irving Berlin got to live long enough to see the lasting impact of his work on American culture.

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Adequate but uninspired

Basic introduction to Irving Berlin. Despite some attempt to delve into the nature of his genius, the book falls short . When it was finished, I felt as though it was a prolonged Wikipedia entry or the kind of composer biopic described in the book as a mundane film.

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Excellent Content

Well written, well researched and interesting. I just couldn't get past the narrator and had to bail. I'm disappointed. I kept hearing the narrator's unnecessary inflections and dramatic additions instead of the story... It was like he wanted personal attention and to steal the show instead of just reading a good solid biography of an interesting person.

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  • colin thomas
  • 09-27-20

Entertaining

A good read if you appreciate this era of music. From dire poverty to one of the most celebrated tunesmiths of all. I thoroughly enjoyed this listen.