The book: Rodgers and Hammerstein were two very different people — Oscar Hammerstein was a self-proclaimed sentimentalist who wrote the lyrics to many of their songs. Richard Rodgers was a thinker who focused on writing the music. However, when the two got together, after successful solo careers in musical theater, they created a new kind of show: the serious musical play, whose songs advance the plot and create depth in their characters, which was a break with the past and paved the way for the next generation of musicals. Something Wonderful (Henry Holt) argues that the two were more than musical writers — they became cultural icons that dominated postwar America.

The author: Todd S. Purdum ’82 worked at The New York Times for 20 years, where he was a White House correspondent.  He is currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a senior writer at Politico. He is the author of An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and A Time of Our Choosing: America’s War on Iraq.

Opening lines: “There is some dispute about whether he saw his first play at the age of three or four or five — or even eight — but there is no dispute that Oscar Hammerstein II was born into theater. His paternal grandfather and namesake, the first Oscar Hammerstein, was the most famous theatrical producer in America, if not the world, when his grandson was born in Harlem on July 12, 1895. The elder Hammerstein was the son of German Jewish parents from Stettin, Prussia, and he showed an early talent on the flute, piano, and violin. But his father wanted him to pursue more practical subjects. Hammerstein resisted, and one day after his father beat him for going skating in a park, the son sold his violin and lit out first for Liverpool and then New York, arriving in America at the age of eighteen.”

Reviews: “Purdum’s anecdote-filled account is a sterling primer on the influential duo, both for newcomers to their work and to those looking to rekindle an old flame.” ―Publishers Weekly