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Leonard Bernstein: A Life Paperback – October 31, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Because this study, by a biographer better known for her books on art figures (Frank Lloyd Wright, Bernard Berenson, Salvador Dali) is the second major one of Bernstein this year, comparisons with the first, by British TV producer Humphrey Burton (Nonfiction Forecasts, Feb. 28), are inevitable. Both biographies are valuable. Burton enjoyed official access to family and papers and Secrest did not, with the perhaps natural consequence that Burton presents Bernstein in a more kindly light. On the other hand, Secrest can approach the maestro with a better sense, as an American, of his cultural context. Secrest is definitively superior on young Lenny's relations with his family; she also offers a more vivid, unvarnished picture of his final unhappy decade, during which he seemed determined, by his outre behavior, to drive away even those who loved and admired him. On the early successes and the golden years from the mid-1940s to the mid-'70s, both books offer a sense of the headlong excitement of Bernstein's prodigious flowering. Burton is stronger on Bernstein the composer, however, giving a far better sense of the value of his work and its place in American music, while Secrest contents herself with contemporary commentary. On basics, these two solid, highly readable books agree: the maestro had a vast talent, particularly as a conductor, that even his regrettable later personal excesses could not diminish. Photos. 35,000 first printing.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Access to Bernstein's papers was denied Secrest (Frank Lloyd Wright, LJ 9/1/92) and given to Humphrey Burton (Leonard Bernstein, Doubleday, 1994). Thus, this second big Bernstein book of 1994 has a different documentary foundation and draws on a different set of interviews, underscoring the point that Bernstein's legacy demands multiple interpretations. Secrest takes issue with some legends, repeats and supports other details, and allows herself to remain perplexed by remaining mysteries. She applies Karen Horney's description of "demoniacal obsession" to Bernstein's perfectionist need to do it all in music: create, re-create, conduct, teach, and inspire. But her welcome perspective allows him his failures, as he never did himself, and credits him with never losing his enthusiasm, the tempering of obsession that makes achievement possible. Recommended as a companion to Burton's work.
--Bonnie Jo Dopp, formerly with District of Columbia P.L.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 471 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (October 31, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067973757X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679737575
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,861,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Oscar Levant on March 26, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a "late" fan of Bernstein, so went looking for a good biography. The place to start, obviously, is "Leonard Bernstein" by Humphrey Burton. That bio is much greater in depth and detail. Mr. Burton was LB's television producer and eventually his good friend. No anecdote is left untouched in his nicely arranged work and if you need all the gory details, that's where you go. However, Secrest's "Leonard Bernstein" A Life" is good for other reasons. She is able to step back a bit and talk about areas not covered in Burton's book. Two examples are the background and politics of the U.S. classical music environment during LB's lifetime and the negative effect of Bernstein's public life on his children's lives. I suspect Burton would have felt these were out of place for the former and out of bounds for the latter. However, both areas give great insight into Bernstein's effect on the world and should be told. Not being so personally close to the family, Secrest is able to write with a little more jaundiced eye. Also the myriad of photographs in Secrest's book, scattered throughout at appropriate places, puts faces to the names.

I highly recommend this as a sort of companion volume to Burton's authoratative work. Since they are both inexpensive softcover purchases these days, get them both and enjoy Bernstein twice.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Best biography that really helps you understand this complex, often troubled personality.. Very moving story and the last couple of chapters - dealing with his downward spiral at the end - are most depressing. But he managed to accomplish so much despite all the demons. We should be grateful - and there are lots of DVDs around to rekindle the concert magic.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By JackOfMostTrades on July 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you have been taught that a book provides more information, analysis, and complexity of thought than visual media, this biography is an exception. One learns very little about Leonard Bernstein here, and you'd be better of (given the choice) to see his concerts for Young People series or the documentary of the making of the fairly bad West Side Story operata, featuring Jose Carreras looking like a bumbling goofball and Bernstein acting like a college music director who had to pick the captain of the football team as a lead in a musical--which is too bad since I believe Bernstein cast him). This book is quite lackluster, which is surprising given the subject matter. It does not address, in depth, any of the internal sufferings or external battles Bernstein waged among the musicati or his deep conflict with homosexuality and his orthodox Jewish roots. What the book does, and this is a good thing is show how Bernstein--despite high brow critics' condenscension--widened the audience for classical music far more than even Pavorati, and that his success included talent, P.R., celebrity, gossip--those things that are uniquely American, and how he was determined to keep his American roots intact, which, among other things had him eschew studying extensively in Europe. In addition, you get an understanding of Bernsteins' 'strangeness,' that rare quality that Harold Bloom talks about that is an ingredient of masterful writers. Secrest does not disparage Bernstein's emotionalism as lots of die-hard classical music aficionados do. It's what made Bernstein who he was, and Secrest makes it evident that although Bernstein created some lousy music, classical music snobs who disparage him owe his a big favor for being a public personality.Read more ›
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