With Sinatra: The Chairman (Doubleday), Fred Kaplan has completed one of the most wildly entertaining American biographies around. This second volume of what adds up to 1,600 pages on Frank Sinatra is the tale of a singer hovering near several centers of American power, from music to movies to organized crime to the presidency.
Contained within these lurid and fascinating tales of a life both sublime and depraved is an education in the expansive nature of postmodern American culture. Sinatra worried in the late 1960s and early '70s he'd made himself an anachronism by his association with seemingly obsolete song styles. But Ol' Blue Eyes' evergreen reputation even past his 2015 centennial year shows he was wrong. Seemingly antique styles retain luster precisely because they crystalize techniques with enduring independent value—not as nostalgia, but as a vital and lively part of the growing cornucopia of cultural choices.