The Life and Times of George Gershwin

Jim Whit­ing
  • Review
By – August 6, 2012

In biog­ra­phy, what is left out is as sig­nif­i­cant as what is includ­ed. Let us first dis­cuss what Jim Whit­ing has cho­sen to put in. He has done exten­sive research; appro­pri­ate quotes are inter­spersed through­out the sto­ry. He describes the music scene in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry and puts Gershwin’s life with­in this his­tor­i­cal con­text. For exam­ple, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to learn that Tin Pan Alley got its name when a man named Mon­roe Rosen­feld com­pared the sound com­ing from many pianos being played with the win­dows open to the clang­ing and bang­ing of dozens of pots and pans. Less inter­est­ing are full-page spreads called FYIn­fo”. In these sec­tions, Whit­ing dis­cuss­es details about: Sports and Pol­i­tics, the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War, Irv­ing Berlin, J. Edgar Hoover, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and J.M. Bar­rie, the author of Peter Pan. Except for the sec­tion about Irv­ing Berlin, this review­er found these pages dis­tract­ing. They seemed like filler. 

The for­mat of this hard­cov­er book suits the book’s pur­pose. Pho­tos are includ­ed to break up the monot­o­ny of sol­id pages of text. Chap­ters are rel­a­tive­ly short, con­tain­ing man­age­able chunks of infor­ma­tion. This book con­tains the basic fea­tures of biog­ra­phy: Con­tents, Chronol­o­gy, Time­line, Chap­ter Notes, Fur­ther Read­ing, Works Con­sult­ed, Select­ed Works, and Index. What is not includ­ed, except for one brief para­graph, is men­tion of Gershwin’s Jew­ish back­ground. How that her­itage influ­enced the composer’s life choic­es is almost com­plete­ly ignored. For more about Gershwin’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and the effect it had on his music, see oth­er Gersh­win biogra­phies for young peo­ple, such as Paul Kresh’s excel­lent An Amer­i­can Rhap­sody: The Sto­ry of George Gersh­win (Dutton,1988) or Cather­ine Reef’s George Gersh­win: Amer­i­can Com­pos­er (Mor­gan Reynolds, 2000). For ages 9 – 12.

Anne Dublin is the teacher-librar­i­an at Holy Blos­som Tem­ple in Toron­to, Cana­da and an award-win­ning author of books for chil­dren and young adults. Her lat­est book is June Call­wood: A Life of Action (Sec­ond Sto­ry Press, 2006).

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