May 28, 2011

The Guest List

Filed under: Books — Administrator @ 6:09 pm

The Guest List: How Manhattan Defined American Sophistication–from the Algonquin Round Table to Truman Capote's Ball by Ethan Mordden has interesting moments but I did not find the book entirely satisfactory. If the word “when” were substituted for “how” in the title, the title would be less misleading. If the book tells how Manhattan defined American sophistication, I missed it, perhaps through careless reading, since there were many pages that I skimmed over quickly because I did not think I would find them interesting. The book covers the period from the 1920's to the 1960's in twelve chapters that tell about people such as Dorothy Parker, Charles Lindbergh, Fiorello La Guardia, Ethel Waters, Cole Porter, and Truman Capote. The book is not very much more than a series of more or less interesting anecdotes. The presentation is similar to that of Mr. Mordden’s books about various decades of the Broadway musical, but represents a movement away from the author's field of expertise. I have the impression that Mr. Mordden wrote the book for the sake of writing another book, since writing books is what he does, but it demonstrates more competence than inspiration. The book is worth borrowing from the public library for summer reading, but I would not recommend buying it.

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