Books for the News

Duke Ellington’s America reviewed in the New York Times

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Did anyone else rejoice at the heft of the New York Times Book Review yesterday? At 48 pages, it was thicker than any issue in recent memory. (And it arrived on the heels of John Palattella’s fascinating discussion in The Nation of the life and death of book reviewing, which contained this brief history of the section’s declining page count: “Some Sundays [former editor John Leonard] could count on having a canvas of at least eighty pages. In 1985 the Book Review averaged forty-four pages; two decades later, it was averaging thirty-two to thirty-six, and in recent months its average size has vacillated between twenty-four and twenty-eight pages.”) The issue contained many thoughtful reviews of fascinating books, including a new title from the University of Chicago Press, Harvey G. Cohen’s Duke Ellington’s America.
By far the most thorough and nuanced portrait yet of this towering figure, Duke Ellington’s America highlights Ellington’s importance as a figure in American history as well as in American music. Indeed, this unorthodox approach drew high praise from reviewer Peter Keepnews. He writes:

The idea of a substantial book about a major musical figure that pays relatively little attention to his music might seem counterintuitive—or, to put it less politely, pointless. That Duke Ellington’s America succeeds as well as it does is a tribute both to its author and to its subject.

Check out the entire review. Then read an excerpt from the book.