Fred Astaire Joseph Epstein, Mark Crispin Miller

Icons of America
Publication date:
06 Oct 2009
Yale University Press
224 pages: 210 x 140mm
2 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A portrait of America’s most graceful and elegant male dancer and how he came to represent the essence of style, suavity, and charm

Joseph Epstein’s Fred Astaire investigates the great dancer’s magical talent, taking up the story of his life, his personality, his work habits, his modest pretensions, and above all his accomplishments. Written with the wit and grace the subject deserves, Fred Astaire provides a remarkable portrait of this extraordinary artist and how he came to embody for Americans a fantasy of easy elegance and, paradoxically, of democratic aristocracy.

Tracing Astaire’s life from his birth in Omaha to his death in his late eighties in Hollywood, the book discusses his early days with his talented and outspoken sister Adele, his gifts as a singer (Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern all delighted in composing for Astaire), and his many movie dance partners, among them Cyd Charisse, Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, and Betty Hutton. A key chapter of the book is devoted to Astaire’s somewhat unwilling partnership with Ginger Rogers, the woman with whom he danced most dazzlingly. What emerges from these pages is a fascinating view of an American era, seen through the accomplishments of Fred Astaire, an unassuming but uncompromising performer who transformed entertainment into art and gave America a new yet enduring standard for style.

Joseph Epstein is the author of, among other books, Snobbery, Friendship, and Fabulous Small Jews. He has been editor of American Scholar and has written for the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Commentary, Town and Country, and other magazines.

?[Astaire?s] gift was to lift people?s spirits from their drab circumstances in a realm that was entirely magical . . . Joseph Epstein, with erudition, wit and panache, sets out to explore the magic and how it was achieved.? ?  Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald

?[A] witty, graceful ? delightful book.? - Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

?Epstein paints a charming picture of an understated man.?

?An IndieNext Pick? from the American Booksellers Association 

"Epstein writes like an insider chatting over mai tais at the Brown Derby."?Patricia Volk, O, the Oprah Magazine

"It's a joy to read Epstein on virtually any subject upon which he decides to write, but Epstein on Astaire is especially magical."?Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

"[Epstein] defines his subject with remarkable eloquence and precision. . . . The author becomes the Astaire of biography. As his book indicates, there can be no higher praise."?Stefan Kanfer, City Journal

"Perceptive and subtle. . . . Yale has matched subject and author in a way that sets the bar for the rest of the series mightly high."?Jeff Landaw, Baltimore Sun

"Deeply personal. . . . Insightful and elegantly written."?Glen C. Altschuler, Boston Globe

"A delightful little volume to press into the hands of kids who want a concise introduction to Astaire?or old-timers who already revere him."?Tom Beer, Newsday

"[Epstein] brings a winning populist awe to his biographic probe of the movie star's time-tested magic."?Publishers Weekly

"[A] warm and smart and funny little book."?Joe Meyers, Connecticut Post

"I've spent lots of time trying to persuade people that Fred Astaire was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. . . . Now, [Epstein] has made the case on behalf of Fred Astaire as eloquently as one could hope. . . . Writing about Fred Astaire is like trying to write about sunshine or fog. Epstein manages, somehow, to do it?to grasp the ineffable. What's more, his book makes you want to do one thing: Watch a Fred Astaire movie as soon as you possibly can."?Paula Marantz Cohen, Philadelphia Inquirer

Selected as one of the Five best books by Chicagoans in 2008 in the Chicago Tribune

"One stylish man describes another in this brief, lyrical gem by the adjunct professor at Northwestern University and veteran essayist."?Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

"Nicely paced, almost scientifically analytical in explaining why Astaire became a legend while others merely became movie stars, and filled with illuminating asides and unexpected wisecracks, Fred Astaire manages to draw a direct line from Denis Diderot to Alexis de Tocqueville to Marcel Proust to Fred Astaire. My top hat's off to this guy."?Joe Queenan, Toronto Globe & Mail

"A slim volume by Joseph Epstein which sets out to explore the secret of [Astaire's] magical on-screen presence, and neatly captures his essence. Epstein compares and contrasts Fred and Gene [Kelly], and discusses at great length Ginger Rogers."—Jordan Young, The San Francisco Examiner

Chosen as one of the Best 100 Books of 2009 by the Toronto Globe & Mail in the Biography category.

Selected for the Gift Book Roundup, The San Francisco Examiner

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