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Fascinating rhythms: a new biography unravels the myths surrounding one of America's most celebrated composers.

George Gershwin: His Life and Work by Howard Pollack, 909 pages, University of California Press, $39.95

If George Gershwin were growing up in America today, he might well be labeled a "hyperactive" kid. George's father once predicted the trouble-prone boy would "grow up to be a bum." Then, in 1910 when Gershwin was 12, his family acquired an upright piano at their home on the lower east side of New York City.

"The upright had scarcely been put in place," George's older brother Ira recalled, "when George twirled the stool down to size, sat, lifted the keyboard cover, and played an accomplished version of a then-popular song." The astonished parents learned that he had taught himself to play on a player piano at a friend's house and that also he had been jotting down musical ideas in a notebook.

Soon, Gershwin's misplaced energy was zooming down the keyboard and coming out as rhythms and melodies of the Jazz Age in songs such as "Swanee," "Fascinating Rhythm," "Oh, Lady, Be Good," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "S'Wonderful," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "Someone to Watch Over Me," and scores of other hits. He also wrote more serious music: Rhapsody in Blue, Piano Concerto in F Major, An American in Paris and Porgy and Bess. Gershwin died at age 38 from a brain tumor, but his vibrant musical legacy continues.

In his new biography, George Gershwin: His Life and Work, University of Houston professor of music Howard Pollack connects the joyous music of Gershwin with the "physical dynamo" that was the man--a person of enormous energy who was a passionate sportsman, a dancer so able he could teach steps to Fred Astaire, and a painter and portraitist of merit who assembled a museum-class art collection.

Pollack produces plentiful evidence to contradict Gershwin's longstanding critics who said that he lacked a substantial musical education. In this encyclopedic work, he explores the musical influences that affected Gershwin's works as well as Gershwin's influence on the great musicians and composers of his day.

The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing by Mimi Guarneri, M.D., FACC, 240 pages, Touchstone, $14.00

In medical school, Mimi Guarneri was trained to see the heart as "a simple mechanical pump," an organ that delivers oxygenated blood to the body and brain and that can be patched and fixed when broken. In cardiology practice, however, she has found that this simple pump is a far more complex organ. In her new book, The Heart Speaks, she reveals how emotional states such as depression, grief, and spirituality can affect the heart for good and ill.

Faith was a medicine that had not been included in her medical school books, Dr. Guarneri writes. "Spiritual practitioners, from Buddhists to shamans, share the common goal of opening the human heart, but I, the expert in this region, had managed to keep mine closed to this dimension."

She writes that it took patients to make her realize that "spirituality is a belief in a force greater than one's self that can encompass an array of beliefs without being embodied in an organized religion."

"It has as much to do with how you live your life and treat others as the strict and punitive codes of behavior I had turned away from in my youth."

After her experience with a religious heart patient, she "began to view cardiac procedures not just as everyday occurrences but as sacred ones. While catheterizations and angioplasties are overwhelmingly safe, there's no mitigating the fact that a tube is being threaded into a beating heart. And so now we prepare our patients in ways that were never taught in medical school.

"With our use of guided-imagery tapes and CDs, patients often enter these procedures fantasizing about sunny beaches instead of IVs.... Patients are encouraged to turn their thoughts away from anxiety and fear and to visualize themselves in the operating room, successfully undergoing the surgery with little pain....

"And we also offer another special practice. For those patients who request it, we usher in a group of men and women who've previously undergone the procedure themselves. They gather around the bed, form a circle, join hands, and bow their heads. And then they do something that there is no manual for, no small print or AMA guidelines, no line charge on any invoice: They pray."

Dr. Guarneri is an attending physician in cardiovascular disease at Scripps Clinic for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California.

The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer, 528 pages, Warner Books, $25.99

Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, watches helplessly as a fellow aide, Ron Boyle, is killed in an assassination attempt. Eight years later, Holloway learns that his friend Boyle is still alive. What actually happened on that day eight years ago is what Holloway must now find out. It's a search that nearly gets him killed and one that will keep readers of Brad Meltzer's latest thriller, The Book of Fate, turning pages until way past midnight.

Presidential crossword puzzles, a secret code of Thomas Jefferson's, and a shadowy group called "the three" are part of the intricate plot that revolves around what happens when presidents go out of office and have to let loose the reins of power.

Meltzer fans Bill Clinton and George Bush helped out the bestselling author of The Tenth Justice and The Zero Game by providing him with fascinating presidential trivia for his eighth novel.
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Title Annotation:THE POST RECOMMENDS; George Gershwin: His Life and Work
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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