As vital and entertaining as the creators and work it celebrates, American Rhapsody is an uncommonly satisfying celebration...




The New Yorker staff writer delivers a selective history of the difficult, chaotic, transcendent genius of arts in America.

In this cultural survey, Pierpont (Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books, 2013, etc.) takes her title from George Gershwin’s original appellation for what would ultimately be known as “Rhapsody in Blue,” an epochal musical composition that embodies the wild, daring, original qualities of its nation of origin, the uniquely transformative properties that are the messy, exciting result of the American experiment. The author explores this “American-ness” (expressed at one point as “seeking a personal language to express a unique point of view”) as it applies to the arts through a series of in-depth portraits of such quintessentially American creators as Edith Wharton, Orson Welles, and Katharine Hepburn. Each chapter of this literary “rhapsody”—an informally structured sequence of distinct elements—begins in medias res with an instantly engaging significant anecdote regarding that section’s subject, deepening into a superbly researched and elegantly presented full artistic biography that unpacks the various social, political, and economic contexts of the work in question. Pierpont’s approach is neither dryly academic nor ideologically hidebound. She places the emphasis on the history and the work, not identity politics, and her witty but sober and evenhanded voice is a consistent pleasure, her prose is limpid and evocative, and her insights consistently dazzle. Deftly untangling the cultural threads that produce (and inextricably link) such geniuses as Gershwin, Nina Simone, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marlon Brando, Bert Williams, and Peggy Guggenheim (the audaciously spired Chrysler Building also receives a fascinating chapter) with grace and style, Pierpont has composed a refreshingly cleareyed piece of cultural history and an inspiring paean to the American artistic spirit.

As vital and entertaining as the creators and work it celebrates, American Rhapsody is an uncommonly satisfying celebration of the cultural kaleidoscope known as the United States.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-10440-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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