Wilfred Sheed
The House That George Built:
With a Little Help from Irving,
Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty.
Random House, 368 pages, $29.95

I found myself fearing for The House That George Built a few pages in, when Wilfred Sheed writes that the guiding ideal in this, his tour of the golden age of American song, will be the bar room “bull session.” Sure enough, Sheed comes out of the gate sounding a little like a bibulous bore. In fairness, anyone talking about the “American Songbook” from 1900 to 1950 can be excused for being somewhat drunk with nostalgia, but Sheed might have spared us a tired passage of memory-theater like the following:

[I] can still feel the pebbles underfoot as my sister and I took turns with “I’ve got spurs that jingle jangle jingle” on the banks of the Delaware River, and can almost hear the piously empty...


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