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Leonard Bernstein Paperback – February 1, 1995

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Paperback, February 1, 1995
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Anchor (February 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385423527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385423526
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,782,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Flamboyant composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), who was America's ambassador to the world of serious music for most of his jam-packed life, has long needed a sober, well-researched and encompassing biography, and this is it. There have been tactful hagiographies (John Gruen), malicious deconstructions (Joan Peyser) and ambivalent inside stories (Burton Bernstein); but Burton, a British TV producer who knew Bernstein well but was no acolyte, has created, with the aid of family archives, a wealth of interviews and an interested layperson's sound musical knowledge, a full-length study unlikely to be surpassed. It is in many ways a tragic story, not of genius unrecognized--if anything Bernstein was overpraised in his life, both as composer and conductor--but of a protean nature overcome by the demands of celebrity status and an overweening ego. From the start "Lenny" was a determinedly colorful character, insistent on the limelight, extravagant of gesture and emotion. Whether he could have become a great composer, rather than a highly talented musical entertainer whose best-remembered work remains his Broadway musicals, will never be known; for his whole professional life was an agonized tightrope walk between the frenzies of adulation that greeted his conducting and his guilty sense that he was betraying his creative gift by not spending more time in the workroom. And even the slim body of work he did create in his crowded life emerged more often than not from collaborations with lyricists and librettists, almost as if he was afraid to be alone with his muse. Bernstein was a man who owed much to his Jewish heritage (and Burton adroitly notes how much of his serious music had Jewish roots) and experienced a strong sense of guilt about his bisexuality, particularly after the death of his betrayed wife Felicia. But as the reader begins to wonder whether such anguish is inescapable for a non-heterosexual American artist, there is the example of Bernstein's friend Aaron Copland to ponder: a man secure in his gay sexuality who created what is arguably a much more lasting body of work and had a greater influence on the musical life of his time. The fact that a biography can raise such questions is a tribute to the tact and imagination that infuse this one. Bernstein owes Burton a posthumous hug for having told it straight, with affection but no blinkers. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A sensitive, well-balanced account of the great American maestro's life and works. Biographer Burton, for over 20 years Bernstein's television and video director, neatly avoids most of the pitfalls that wait for a close friend who attempts an authoritative portrait within a very few years of the death of its subject. While generally admiring Bernstein the creative dynamo, Burton rarely gushes, unlike at least one other recent memoirist. Nor does he trash Bernstein for his emotional and sexual excesses; indeed, Burton deals with the intimate side of Bernstein's life, particularly his homosexuality and his guilt at the rift it caused between him and his wife, Felicia, during her last troubled years, with nonjudgmental candor and a lack of sensationalism. The core of the book is a straightforward chronological narrative. Into a lifetime scarcely longer than seven decades, Bernstein seemingly packed several lifetimes of composition (both ``serious'' and Broadway), conducting, and teaching. Even in a book of this length, the sheer amount of mental and physical activity described is hardly less exhausting to read about than it must have been to experience. Burton earns the reader's trust by declaring at the outset that the real Leonard Bernstein is to be found in his many recordings and videotaped performances; nonetheless, Burton unfailingly provides the context of each of Bernstein's own compositions (including ones left unfinished) and a survey of contemporaneous critical response (for instance, Mass, which Burton thinks is Bernstein's ``most original work'' from the point of view of musical form, was called ``magnificent'' and ``stupendous'' by certain leading critics, ``pretentious and thin'' by others). Burton would probably admit that the images of Bernstein the conductor and musical pedagogue are still so powerfully etched in our consciousness that an objective appraisal of Bernstein's own music is not yet possible. Simply the best of the Bernstein biographies so far. (First printing of 60,000; Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club selection; ad/promo) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

I would recommend this book highly for any reader who wants to get an insight into the work of this great musician.
Dr. H. A. Jones
All in all, this is a detailed and very perceptive portrait of one of the most influential American musical figures of the 20th century.
Steven H Propp
We can compare this well-balanced book with Peyser's bio, which is excessively simplistic due to Peyser's journalistic outlook.
Herbert H. Highstone

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This bio skillfully covers Bernstein's background, his philosophy, his methods of viewing and performing music. Bernstein was a man of conflict, always wishing to compose (indeed, he wanted to be remembered not as a conductor, primarily, but as a composer) but knew he had to remain with conducting in order to earn his living. And Bernstein was a splendid composer .. I personally think his Candide and West Side Story are masterpieces without peer, and his orchestral works are incredibly daring and far sighted for their time. Bernstein, though a genius, was all too human. He struggled endlessly with his sexuality, yet remained entirely devoted to his wife and children. Burton thoroughly explores Bernstein's many friendships with those in the music world, the most touching being his involvements with Copland and Mitropoulous. Both recognized Bernstein's genius, and were also painfully aware of his inner conflicts and fragile ego, and strove to uplift and encourage him so that he might make his true mark in the arts. The photos in this book are splendid, and Burton's writing is crisp and engaging. You will come away from this book with a renewed respect and enthusiasm for Bernstein the man and the musician.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By PuppyTalk on March 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It took me about 2 months to finish reading it, not because it wasn't a page-turner, but because it was a long book and also I'd been busy. It was actually a great page-turner. I could read on and on for 5-7 hours without a break.
Bernstein's personal letters to his friends and colleagues, including Aaron Copland, his thesis at Harvard, etc. were all very inspiring to read. There were quite a bit of poems he wrote also. The positive and negative sides of the great man were also well delivered without getting vulgar.
I really appreciated the author's knowledge about music and the classical music world and system.
The book makes you feel like you're living the life closely with the great man and gets you intellectually, musically, emotionally involved. You experience with him every success and failure Bernstein went through.
His talents were beyond human in some way, yet he was a man just like you and me. Sometimes his talents were greater than he as a man, and as a result the world occasionally saw him fall apart. The book is honest about his failures and misbehaviours without being accusatory. It makes you want to forgive the man for the wrongs he'd done. The burden he was carrying as genius was more than an ordinary man could bear.

The book also covers the Jewish culture, politics, world events, how Bernstein and his genius contributed to the world and American history, etc. in relations to his achievements.
There are enough interviews with his friends and family, reviews on Bernstein's works, letters etc. but the author uses his own narratives to tell us about the man, which is, I think, why this book is more solid and readable. Only, I wish there were more photographs. But oh well, you can't ask for everything.
Great, inspiring book. I might read it again.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Herbert H. Highstone on August 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the Bernstein bio that you'll read and re-read with continual pleasure. This book firmly places the great conductor in his time and his world, which is considerably different than the world of today. When Bernstein was alive, classical music was still important and a great deal of classical music was still being recorded. Today our classical music culture seems to have collapsed, at least in a commercial sense. The lunatic screech and drivel of hip-hop has taken over the music scene, and it may indeed be true we are getting what we deserve if we allow 2000 years of Western culture to disintegrate like a house of cards, but some of us can still appreciate the age of Bernstein as a golden age in terms of musical activity.

We can compare this well-balanced book with Peyser's bio, which is excessively simplistic due to Peyser's journalistic outlook. Journalists are forced to oversimplify their work because the average reader or viewer of journalism expects a dumbed-down story with a theme, a standard simple THEME that anyone can understand. In this sense, journalists create candy bars and Big Macs instead of serious literary cuisine. And maybe you prefer Hershey bars and hamburgers, okay? That's your privilege. But I don't like dumbed-down books, so I'll take Burton over Peyser any day.

Gay, gay, GAY! Lenny was GAY, all right? And of course we secretly long to know all the GAY DIRT, correct? So how much GAY DIRT is in the Burton book? Actually Burton is much more explicit than Peyser, but it really helps to know the gay code words. I asked a gay friend about the gay content in this book, and he returned it to me after he had used a red pen to underline lots of seemingly harmless words and phrases.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on September 29, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Humphrey Burton has written a tremendous biography of Bernstein (1918-1990). It is filled with details and insights into the man, his conducting, and his own compositions. Bernstein was renowned as a composer, as a performer on the piano, as a conductor, and as an educator, and Burton highlights all of these aspects. Bernstein was also gay, or bisexual; Burton indicates early on, "The reference to Bernstein's sexual problems underscored the confusion he felt about his sexuality, a confusion which he would continue to confront in his final year at Harvard." (He married in 1951, and had three children, to whom he was devoted.)

When he met Aaron Copland for the first time (at one of the "salons of the New York intellectual elite"), Bernstein told him he was a great fan, and announced that he could play Copland's Piano Variations from memory; Copland challenged him to do so, and he did. Bernstein later recalled, "So I played it, and they were all---he particularly---drop-jawed." Thus began a lifelong friendship between the two, that Burton chronicles in numerous places in the book.

After the 1944 premiere of On the Town, he accepted the advice of famed conductor Serge Koussevitsky and devoted himself to conducting. "Composing became a holiday diversion, fitted in between conducting tours and preseason parties. His activities as a pianist were restricted to playing the same handful of concertos with every new orchestra he conducted." In a speech Bernstein made in 1963, he said, "The composer comes first. In the beginning was the Note, and the Note was with God; and whoever can reach high for that note, reach high, and bring it back to us on earth, to our earthly ears¯he is a composer and to the extent of his reach partakes of the divine.
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