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White Christmas: The Story of an American Song Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (July 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743218760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743218764
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,260,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With its references to glistening treetops and sleigh bells in the snow, Irving Berlin's dreamy ballad has become a monstrously popular classic. Since its 1942 debut (softly crooned by Bing Crosby), artists from Doris Day to the Flaming Lips have recorded their own versions of the tune; it's become the world's most frequently recorded song. Music journalist Rosen offers a perfect, compact book chronicling the song's birth, initial reception and rise to popularity, simultaneously giving readers an understanding of the iconic Berlin and 1940s American popular culture. The prolific songwriter couldn't read or write music, yet composed continually, using his "musical secretary," Helmy Kresa, to pen the songs he wrote on the piano. Berlin introduced "White Christmas" to Kresa on January 8, 1940. Rosen explains the song's little-known introduction (which sets the narrator in California, longing for cold weather); offers interpretations of the song's escapist appeal (like so many popular songs of its time, it doesn't acknowledge the Great Depression's hardships); and comments on the prevalence of Jewish composers in that era's popular song business (Berlin himself was an Eastern European Jewish immigrant). The unsentimental writing and thorough research Rosen draws on such sources as Berlin's family and music scholars make this a delightful testament to the power of one simple song.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

New York Times contributor Rosen offers a thoroughly researched book that traces the history of the beloved Irving Berlin song from its conception to the present. In an accessible style, with marvelous turns of phrase, he addresses the phenomenally popular recordings by Bing Crosby, the song's pivotal role in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn, and its iconic status as one of the best-selling song sheets of the 20th century. Rosen delves into Berlin's family life, his repudiation of his orthodox Jewish upbringing, and his compositional technique. In addition, Rosen considers when the song was actually written, its popularity among troops during World War II, and the "competition" between "White Christmas" and "God Bless America" as the favorite Irving Berlin song, especially in the context of 9/11. Along the way, Rosen limns the cultural underpinnings of the song and the role of Jewish Americans in the creative arts, with somewhat mixed results; his intention is admirable, but at times he overstates his case and resorts to odd word or phrase choices. However, these and a few other errors are small distractions from one of the first available titles to treat this specific song. Recommended for all collections.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It's time to take a good look at the most popular song ever, top selling and most frequently recorded. _White Christmas: The Story of an American Song_ (Scribner) by Jody Rosen not only tells about the song everyone has heard so many times that no one really listens to it anymore, but also about the songwriter, American twentieth century history, and Tin Pan Alley and its descendants. It's a lot of baggage to load upon a pop song, but it is an amazing little song, and the book has a brisk story told with real love of the music and how it was shaped and how it shaped us.
It's a good thing that Irving Berlin didn't write about a Christmas "just like the ones I used to know." He was born Israel Baline in 1888 in a bleak town in Siberia. Russian peasants, drunk with Christmas cheer, often used the holiday as an excuse for pogroms against the Jews, and his first memory is of his house being burned down. Berlin got no formal musical training, but produced hundreds of songs. In January 1940, Berlin worked over the weekend on a song he became very enthusiastic about. He bustled into his office that Monday morning and said, "I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song _I_ ever wrote, it's the best song _anybody_ ever wrote." Christmas 1942 was the first that masses of Americans, soldiers and sailors all over the world, would spend away from home, and could only dream of Christmases just like the ones they used to know. Crosby's version was shipped to them in recordings, and it topped the Hit Parade as a patriotic anthem, displacing "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." The song signaled that recordings and performers were in and sheet music and songwriters were out. In 1957, Berlin tried to squelch an Elvis Presley version, but couldn't.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By P. Meltzer on August 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought that this book was just outstanding. I would give it 6 stars if I could. I thought that the writing was excellent (I found myself frequently flipping back a few pages just to re-read certain passages over again), and that it was endlessly fascinating. The material on the relationship of Jews to Christmas is particularly interesting, as is the author's discussion of the myth of the "recent" commercialization of Christmas. He treats both Berlin and the song itself in a clear-headed yet loving way. I cannot recommend this little book highly enough and I congratulate (and thank) the author for a marvelously entertaining book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By "cbcbb" on November 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is one most lively, intelligent and orginal non-fiction books I've read in years. Not only does Rosen chronicle superbly Irving Berlin's amazing rags-to-riches story and the story of his most successful song but through both illuminates a larger story of how jewish immigrants - with great creative energy and drive for success and inclusion - transformed American culture. The role that WW II played in the song's massive success is also fascinating (and timely).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Boomhower on June 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a pretty interesting book regarding the writing of and eventual huge success of an American popular song.
The author gives good background information about Irving Berlin, the song's composer, plus an interesting look at the history of popular music in general during the days of the great composers.
Also of interest is the various incarnations of the song, from classic era songsters to more contemporary artists and including the use of it in various motion pictures and other venues.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. S. Montgomery on September 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
People are amazed at how much I know about this song when it is getting discussed. The only reason I know what i do is from this book.

Not only did I learn a lot about the song but Irving Berlin as well.

This book is very entertaining and fun to read, even in the summer.
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