Bernstein emerges as highly literate, compassionate, astonishingly busy and gifted almost beyond measure.

Nearly 60 years of revealing letters to and from the composer of West Side Story, a musical colossus who stood with one foot on Broadway, the other in whatever of the world’s symphony halls he wished.

Meticulously and even lovingly edited and annotated by Simeone, the author of Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story (2009), the volume begins in 1932 with a letter from the 14-year-old to his piano teacher, Helen Coates, who reappears throughout. Simeone does not reproduce every letter here (he focuses principally on Bernstein’s musical life), but even so, Bernstein’s list of correspondents is a virtual who’s who: Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Judy Holliday, Randall Thompson, Jerome Robbins, Bette Davis, Farley Granger (with whom he apparently had a fling), Lena Horne, James M. Cain, Martha Gellhorn, Arthur Miller, Aldous Huxley, Cole Porter, a 10-year-old Yo-Yo Ma, Thornton Wilder, and on and on. There’s also a touching late-life letter from Miles Davis, who wrote, “You are one of America’s true geniuses.” Indeed, Simeone also focuses—though softly—on Bernstein’s sexual identity (his wife was well-aware of his homosexuality) and includes a few letters mentioning the births of his children (much more appears in the footnotes). Bernstein was generally exuberant in his letters, reporting his podium successes around the world with great panache. He encouraged other musicians, was grateful for those who had helped him, and was generous to his collaborators. He and Robbins admit towering admiration for each other—though recognizing, as well, how they got on the other’s nerves. Simeone’s notes are numerous and thorough, and the letters become weighty with poignant and wrenching dramatic irony as we recognize the end nearing.

Bernstein emerges as highly literate, compassionate, astonishingly busy and gifted almost beyond measure.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-300-17909-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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