Kaplan has written an extensively researched, entertaining, and nuanced account that contextualizes Berlin’s story and achievements within the scope of Jewish immigrant New York and modern American popular culture ... An excellent addition to the Berlin biographical bookshelf and a mandatory acquisition for all American music and popular culture collections.
[Berlin's] miraculous ascent makes up the breeziest sequence in James Kaplan’s empathic biography. Like his subject, though, Kaplan ultimately finds this pace impossible to maintain ... Kaplan, a longtime entertainment journalist and the author of a well-regarded two-volume biography of Frank Sinatra, is generally on surer footing with Berlin’s lyrics ... However, Kaplan goes easy on musicological analysis ... Despite this book’s inclusion in Yale University Press’s Jewish Lives series of biographies, Kaplan doesn’t particularly dwell on the fact that the author of 'White Christmas' and 'Easter Parade' was born Israel Baline in Belarus, the son of a cantor.
Mr. Kaplan’s take on Irving Berlin is a more streamlined and sedate affair. But—like the Sinatra books—propulsive and appealing ... Perhaps to protect Berlin from those sentimental trappings that could easily enwrap the composer of A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” and White Christmas and God Bless America, Mr. Kaplan is sometimes guilty of romanticizing and roughening his subject.
... benefits from Kaplan’s research in the Irving Berlin Archives at the Library of Congress. Kaplan is interested in Berlin as composer-lyricist and as show business titan ... Kaplan’s book is well-documented and written in an enjoyable, conversational style. One senses on every page Kaplan’s enthusiasm for his subject as well as his deep knowledge. This is the best introduction to Berlin’s life and work.
... sprightly ... There were no florid dysfunctions in Berlin’s life—he enjoyed success and acclaim from youth onward—but Kaplan excavates psychological depth beneath the blithe melodies ... Kaplan tells the story briskly and with aplomb, adding plenty of showbiz antics, atmospheric evocations of Berlin’s New York, and shrewd critical passages that separate the musical schmaltz from the art (and find the art in the schmaltz). The result is a smart, entertaining biography of a great songwriter that will have readers humming along.