Emphasizing Chopin's life and times rather than his music, Szulc's biography situates the composer and pianist extraordinaire within the circles of European artists, writers, and others who created the Romantic era. Award-winning journalist Szulc's (The SecretAlliance, 1991, etc.) exploration of Chopin's character focuses on the 18 years he spent in Paris. He sets his inquiry into the broader framework of Chopin's times, stressing the unique environment of budding Romanticism that the musician discovered when he cached Paris. This account is divided into three chronological sections, rather romantically labeled ""Andante,"" ""Rondo,"" and ""Coda."" The first serves as an introduction to Chopin's Polish-French background and the process by which he effected dramatic entry into French society. Szulc discusses the nature of Chopin's poor physical health and his questionable mental health, foreshadowing the mental crises and debilitating consumption that marked the last years of his short life. Next Szulc turns to the other two ""protagonists"" of this biography: the Age of Romanticism and George Sand. Chopin's famed seven-year affair with Sand is the stuff of legend, and Szulc admirably brings the two fascinating personalities to life through citations from letters and other biographers. Sand's forceful personality electrifies these pages and almost threatens to overwhelm the enigmatic and far more subtle Chopin. More problematic is Szulc's presentation of Chopin's milieu. His declaration that European Romanticism represented a unique and unprecedented merging of art and politics lacks clarity, as the politics of the moment are only superficially explained. His attempt to set Chopin within the Romantic movement isn't much helped by his prose, which intermittently exhibits a highly romantic (and somewhat awkward) tone. Despite stylistic weaknesses, Szulc's book offers a readable account of the most creative period of Chopin's life and of the many geniuses he rubbed shoulders with. He also gives a particularly fine impression of the startling effect that Chopin the pianist had upon his listeners.