Review of “The Memory of All That” by Katharine Weber

I found this book somewhat diverting, but for the most part it was a disappointment for me. I’m not sure if one can totally blame the author – it is marketed as if the main focus is on George Gershwin and Kay Swift, but their affair is not a big part of the book. Moreover, the author – Kay Swift’s granddaughter – doesn’t really know much about it. I would entitle this book more accurately as: “A Memoir About Me and My Family, Many of Whom Were Rich and Famous and Therefore You Probably Heard of Them So You May Find This Interesting.” It is also probably more about her father, Sidney Kaufman, than anyone else, but like many daughters, the author doesn’t really know much about him either; she learned a lot of what she reports from requesting his FBI files!

The writing isn’t bad, but there is not much insightful or analytical. Nor is there much to be learned about Swift and Gershwin. Most of the story is lost to history; Kay asked Ira Gershwin to destroy all of their pictures and letters in his possession, and she destroyed her own collection as well. The author didn’t have significant additional knowledge of her own, especially of Gershwin. A notable exception is what she learned about Gershwin’s disease and death from a 2011 report by Mark Leffert. That (very) small section of the book was fascinating.

Less impressive are the liberties taken by the author with the little pieces of information she remembers or reads about. In one instance, she makes the outrageous claim, in contradistinction to much evidence, that Martha Dodd – the daughter of the American Ambassador to Germany in the 1930’s and someone with whom the author’s father had an affair – became disillusioned with the Third Reich only “when Hitler didn’t write or call.” (A very different view is offered by Erik Larson who used Martha’s own diary as a resource in his book In The Garden of Beasts.) Meanwhile, Weber criticizes Ron Chernow who, in his book The Warburgs, made some observations about Weber’s family (the Warburgs, on her maternal side) that she disputes. But he did base his interpretations on interviews with family members. Her own assertions come from either her impressions formed while she was a child, or her own interviews with “rival” family members. (I definitely got a “he said, she said” feel over the dispute).

Kay Swift and George Gershwin in 1928

Evaluation: I’m such a fanatical Gershwin fan, I’ll take what I can get. But still, The Memory Of All That could also have been called (in addition to the title change I suggest above), The Memory of A Bit of That.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2011

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13 Responses to Review of “The Memory of All That” by Katharine Weber

  1. I do love memoirs but his doesn’t sound like the best of the bunch. I love the title you came up with – you should be in marketing!

  2. Beth F says:

    Bummer. I guess this one is a pass.

  3. It’s unfortunate it lacked Gershwin goodness. This cracked me up though: “A Memoir About Me and My Family, Many of Whom Were Rich and Famous and Therefore You Probably Heard of Them So You May Find This Interesting.” I love renaming books 🙂

  4. Vasilly says:

    Ack! This book sounds like a stinker. I’m going to pass it up.

  5. That’s too bad. I like Gershwin, but don’t know that much about him.

  6. Jenners says:

    Too bad … sounds like she was trying to cash in on what little she had of the family fame.

  7. softdrink says:

    Hah! I like your alternate title.

  8. Jenny says:

    Hahahaha, your proposed title is very amusing to me. I feel like there are a lot of memoirs that could be titled that way.

  9. claire says:

    Aww.. that’s a shame because the cover is lovely.

  10. bookingmama says:

    So sorry that you were disappointed in this one, but I understand why you didn’t like it.

  11. aartichapati says:

    This review made me laugh just because of how completely “meh” you were through the entirety of it. Almost like the effort of writing about such a blase book was more than it was really worth. Rich relatives ARE fascinating, I admit (I totally want to read about the Vanderbilts and how that house came tumbling DOWN), so I can’t imagine how one could make the story dull..

  12. stacybuckeye says:

    Um, no thanks. Even though I’m sure I’d love to read about people I’ve probably heard about, it won’t be in this book 🙂

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