Carol Iaciofano, a Boston-based writer, has written a very fair review, "Bernstein: the man, musician, his politics," published in the Boston Globe and on-line at Boston.com, of my Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician. I've been getting some reviews, and noticing that some reviewers belabor me for not having written the book that they think I should have written. Ms. Iaciofano, on the other hand, has written about my book as I wrote it, and for that I am most grateful.
I especially want to quote a line of signal importance from Ms. Iaciofano's review: "This is a biography with a political focus, but it’s a full biography, one that knocks over caricatures of a celebrity musician who merely played at politics." Ms. Iaciofano has touched on a matter of central concern, the wrong-headed idea that anyone achieving celebrity status in areas outside politics, academia or business is politically mindless. Those holding this notion assume that actors, musicians, painters, poets and other writers are superficial, frivolous, unworldy, unable to think abstractly, to synthesize across disciplines, in short, unable to make critical judgments about what is going on in the larger public sphere. But anyone who understands artistic achievement knows the intensity of disciplined intelligence and exercise of critical faculties necessary for success. Of course an orchestral conductor who excels in the interpretation of the most complex musical scores, or an actor who excels in the interpretation of a script, may choose not to engage himself or herself in the political sphere; but only a superficial and thoughtless individual will claim a priori that conductors or actors are a disabled lot who cannot make informed judgments about the policies and decisions that determine the ethical life of the nation.
As regards Bernstein, Ms. Iaciofano has correctly read the evidence: he was a very well-informed citizen who understood only too well the drift and contradictions in American life, and for that matter, the cascading crises of the 20th and now 21st centuries.