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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
American Rhapsody

American Rhapsody

Writers, Musicians, Movie Stars, and One Great Building

Claudia Roth Pierpont

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Ranging from the shattered gentility of Edith Wharton's heroines to racial confrontation in the songs of Nina Simone, American Rhapsody presents a kaleidoscopic story of the creation of a culture. Here is a series of deeply involving portraits of American artists and innovators who have helped to shape the country in the modern age.

Claudia Roth Pierpont expertly mixes biography and criticism, history and reportage, to bring these portraits to life and to link them in surprising ways. It isn't far from Wharton's brave new women to F. Scott Fitzgerald's giddy flappers, and on to the big-screen command of Katharine Hepburn and the dangerous dames of Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled world. The improvisatory jazziness of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue has its counterpart in the great jazz baby of the New York skyline, the Chrysler Building. Questions of an American acting style are traced from Orson Welles to Marlon Brando, while the new American painting emerges in the gallery of Peggy Guggenheim. And we trace the arc of racial progress from Bert Williams's blackface performances to James Baldwin's warning of the fire next time, however slow and bitter and anguished this progress may be.

American Rhapsody offers a history of twentieth-century American invention and genius. It is about the joy and profit of being a heterogeneous people, and the immense difficulty of this human experiment.

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, Booklist Editors' Choice


American Rhapsody was George Gershwin’s original title for the revolutionary work that his brother Ira persuaded him to name, instead, Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin wanted to call...

Praise for American Rhapsody

"An ingenious and captivating way to spotlight the kaleidoscopic rhapsody of America’s spirit.” —Amy Henderson, The Washington Post

“Stunningly evocative … Pierpont writes with sensitivity and erudition – and always in dazzling prose … American Rhapsody is compulsively readable and fascinatingly informative. Learning this much has almost never been so much fun.” —Kevin O'Kelly, Christian Science Monitor

"A kaleidoscopic mural of America’s cultural coming-of-age in the early to mid-20th century” and “Pierpont’s shining prose provides ... bright and memorable moments.” —Publishers Weekly

"A virtuoso of the profile form . . . exquisitely precise in perception and language . . . [Pierpont] reinvigorates our appreciation for artists instrumental in shaping our culture and propelling our ongoing struggle to realize our ideals.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"[Pierpont’s] witty but sober and evenhanded voice is a consistent pleasure, her prose is limpid and evocative, and her insights consistently dazzle. . . a refreshingly clear-eyed piece of cultural history and an inspiring paean to the American artistic spirit. As vital and entertaining as the creators and work it celebrates.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

Claudia Roth Pierpont

Claudia Roth Pierpont is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where she has written about the arts for more than twenty years. She is the author of Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books, an exploration of the life and work of Philip Roth, and Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in New York City.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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