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Irving Berlin: New York Genius by James Kaplan


From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series: a fast‑moving, musically astute portrait of Irving Berlin, arguably the greatest composer of American popular music.

“An extensively researched, entertaining, and nuanced account that contextualizes Berlin’s story and achievements within the scope of Jewish immigrant New York and modern American popular culture.”—Library Journal

Irving Berlin (1888–1989) has been called—by George Gershwin, among others—the greatest songwriter of the golden age of the American popular song. “Berlin has no place in American music,” legendary composer Jerome Kern wrote; “he is American music.” In a career that spanned an astonishing nine decades, Berlin wrote some fifteen hundred tunes, including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “God Bless America,” and “White Christmas.” From ragtime to the rock era, Berlin’s work has endured in the very fiber of American national identity.
Exploring the interplay of Berlin’s life with the life of New York City, noted biographer James Kaplan offers a visceral narrative of Berlin as self‑made man and witty, wily, tough Jewish immigrant. This fast‑paced, musically opinionated biography uncovers Berlin’s unique brilliance as a composer of music and lyrics. Masterfully written and psychologically penetrating, Kaplan’s book underscores Berlin’s continued relevance in American popular culture.


James Kaplan has been writing noted fiction, journalism, and biography for over four decades. His essays and reviews, as well as more than a hundred major profiles of figures ranging from Madonna to Helen Gurley Brown, Calvin Klein to John Updike, Miles Davis to Meryl Streep, and Arthur Miller to Larry David, have appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and New York.

In November 2010, Doubleday published Frank: The Voice, the first volume of Kaplan’s definitive biography of Frank Sinatra. The book was also a New York Times bestseller, and was chosen by Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani as one of her Top Ten Books of 2010. In 2012, Kaplan was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for nonfiction. In October 2015, Doubleday published the bestselling second volume of his Frank Sinatra biography, Sinatra: The Chairman, which was longlisted for the 2016 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and won the Biographers International Organization’s Award for Excellence in Biography. In November 2019 Yale University Press published Kaplan’s Irving Berlin: New York Genius, as part of its Jewish Lives series.

Kaplan has also written a number of bestselling as-told-to’s, including 2002’s You Cannot Be Serious (with John McEnroe), 2017’s Walk Through Walls: A Memoir (with legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic), 2018’s I Love Capitalism! (with Home Depot cofounder and philanthropist Ken Langone), and Play Nice But Win (with Dell Computers founder Michael Dell, 2021).

James Kaplan lives in Westchester, New York.  http://jameskaplan.net

Photo Credit: Erinn Hartmann


  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Illustrated edition (November 5, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • Product Dimensions: 5.75 x 1.13 x 8.25 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.38 pounds

All proceeds from the book go directly to supporting Save Ellis Island's mission to restore the 29 buildings in the Historic Hospital Complex.