Book: Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America From the Great War Through the Cold War

Author: Jonathan Rosenberg

Review by: Rickey Bevington, former Georgia Public Broadcasting journalist and newly appointed president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta

Rickey Bevington, an award-winning journalist for Georgia Public Broadcasting, has been named the new president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta. Photo: WAC Atlanta

“Dangerous Melodies” taught me about a chapter of American history that I didn’t know existed. This says less about my study of history (which is extensive) and more about post-World War II America’s regrettable relegation of classical music to niche corners of our history and culture.

In this context, the book left me marveling that classical musicians were once household names in America. For half of the 20th century, the New York Times covered their successes and scandals like today’s TMZ might report on Kim and Kanye’s divorce. To this Xennial, that’s pretty wild.

Classical music held tremendous political and cultural influence in international conflicts starting from World War I and persisting through World War II and the subsequent Cold War. It was a venue where global tensions over nationalism, communism and fascism played out publicly, sometimes violently and always with deeper symbolism about the world order.

If there is one area where the book could be improved, I found Rosenberg to be a bit repetitive with his primary sourcing; where one or two illustrative stories would be sufficient to propel the narrative, readers are at times asked to wade through too many examples of the same point.

Still, this book is filled with fascinating anecdotes that are the hallmark of superior historical storytelling. What better way to capture the heartbreak of the Cold War than “Shostakovich, jump thru the window!”

Editor’s notes: Global Atlanta will receive a 10 percent commission on any purchase of this book through the links on this page. also contributes 10 percent of the purchase price of each book to independent booksellers around the United States.

Each year, Global Atlanta asks influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued annually since 2010.

See last year’s full list of books on BookShop here, and all 2020 reader reviews here.

All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.