The Memory of All That: Book summary and reviews of The Memory of All That by Katharine Weber

The Memory of All That

George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities

By Katharine Weber

The Memory of All That
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  • Published in USA  Jul 2011,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

The Memory of All That is Katharine Weber's memoir of her extraordinary family. 

Her maternal grandmother, Kay Swift, was known both for her own music (she was the first woman to compose the score to a hit Broadway show, Fine and Dandy) and for her ten-year romance with George Gershwin. Their love affair began during Swift's marriage to James Paul Warburg, the multi-talented banker and economist who advised (and feuded with) FDR. Weber creates an intriguing and intimate group portrait of the renowned Warburg family, from her great-great-uncle, the eccentric art historian Aby Warburg, whose madness inspired modern theories of iconography, to her great-grandfather Paul M. Warburg, the architect of the Federal Reserve System whose unheeded warnings about the stock-market crash of 1929 made him "the Cassandra of Wall Street."

As she throws new light on her beloved grandmother's life and many amours, Weber also considers the role the psychoanalyst Gregory Zilboorg played in her family history, along with the ways the Warburg family has been as celebrated for its accomplishments as it has been vilified over the years by countless conspiracy theorists (from Henry Ford to Louis Farrakhan), who labeled Paul Warburg the ringleader of the so-called international Jewish banking conspiracy. 

Her mother, Andrea Swift Warburg, married Sidney Kaufman, but their unlikely union, Weber believes, was a direct consequence of George Gershwin's looming presence in the Warburg family. A notorious womanizer, Weber's father was a peripatetic filmmaker who made propaganda and training films for the OSS during World War II before producing the first movie with smells, the regrettable flop that was AromaRama. He was as much an enigma to his daughter as he was to the FBI, which had him under surveillance for more than forty years, and even noted Katharine's birth in a memo to J. Edgar Hoover.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Novelist Weber mines her rich family history, hitting the mother lode of pedigreed romances and remembrances…. [they] literally walk off the pages of this captivating multi-generational saga." – Booklist

"A wry portrait of a powerful, talented, but troubled family." – Publishers Weekly

"Rich details of a dazzling but painful family past fraught with betrayals, infidelities and other assorted dysfunctions…. illuminating." – Kirkus Reviews

"I am in awe of the strength, tenacity and courage it took to rise up out of this fabled cast of characters and write one of the most powerful memoirs about inheritance I have ever read." - Dani Shapiro, author of Black and White

"An engaging family memoir that centers on the ardent extra-marital liaison between the author's maternal grandmother, composer Kay Swift, and her eminent colleague George Gershwin.... An entertaining, often poignant book." - Francine du Plessix Gray, author of Them

"A deeply moving book that is resonant and richly rewarding. Katharine Weber's loving and insightful look at her marquee worthy family fundamentally reminds us of our own in its strangeness and complexity. The deeply bonded relationship between her grandmother Kay Swift and lover George Gershwin is finally fully revealed with accuracy and aching poignancy. No one has ever properly told their story, and the combination of Weber's inside family knowledge, assiduous research, and brilliant writing make this an unforgettable and essential read." - Michael Feinstein

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Anna S. (Auburn, AL)
The Memory of All That
It is always entertaining to read about the lives of the rich and famous, and the book did not disappoint in this regard. It was somewhat difficult to get into the first part of the book which was mainly about her despicable father. It was amazing to me that the author was able to give a reasonably sympathetic telling of his exploits. I found the second half of the book, about her mother's family, much more interesting. I have always been a huge George Gershwin fan, and particularly enjoyed reading about his relationship with Weber's grandmother, Kay Swift. I had not known previously that she was such an accomplished musician. It is a shame that she has received so little credit for her accomplishments.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Janet S. (Great Neck Library, NY)
Riveting and Sad Memoir
The rich and famous truly ARE different. In this charmingly told, evocative page-turner, Weber recounts the complex truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of her parents' and grandparents' marriages and extra-marital relationships. The author unblinkingly examines both the good and the extremely difficult times in the intense relationship between her grandmother Kay Swift and her married grandmother's long-time lover George Gershwin, as well as what it was like to live as a member of an illustrious yet troubled American Jewish family.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sharon P. (Jacksonville, FL)
The Memory of All That
The subtitle says a lot about the story: "George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities". Though not always a happy one, this is a fascinating story with a large cast of unusual, and often well known, characters. Katharine Weber gives us a behind-the-scenes look at some of the entertainers of a bygone era. A really good read.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Philip K. (San Anselmo, Ca)
Memories
The Memory Of All That starts slowly focusing at first on the authors' father,a second rate producer and movie director and first rate cheat who ignored his family. The story takes off when the focus shifts to the authors mothers' family, the Warburgs, grandfather Paul and his wife Kay Swift,a song writer and lover of George Gershwin . At this point the story of this menage becomes at once moving and ultimately tragic ending with the inexcusable death of Gershwin at the hands of his physicians who misdiagnosed a tumor which eventually killed this great American musical genius. The story is replete with wonderful characters, dysfunctional families and the magic years in New York between the two world wars. A wonderful piece of entertainment.






father

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Carole A. (Denver, CO)
I'll try not to remember
I'm always excited to read a new book and almost always read it straight thru. I picked this one up and put it down and repeated the process three times. Finally made myself sit and read to the end. The memory of George Gershwin is not one I expected. As a "tell all" I wasn't particularly interested in the other "all's". In my opinion this was a great exercise in therapy for Ms. Weber but not a particularly interesting read for those who are not familiar with the rest of the players. In this day and age infidelities, unfortunately, are not all that unusual or interesting. While I am a frequent supplier of books to several reading groups as well as family and friends - this book will not be the only one from Book Browse that will not be suggested ... there will be no memory - of all that.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Gwendolyn D. (Houston, TX)
An entertaining family memoir
I really enjoyed this family memoir. I picked up the book because of it's content on George Gershwin, one of my favorite musicians. I was thrilled to find that the book covers so many more interesting people than just Gershwin. There's Kay Swift, who was Gershwin's lover and also a talented composer and pianist, and James Paul Warburg, FDR’s economic adviser, and many others. History buffs, especially those with an interest in the arts and music, will enjoy this well-written memoir.

...11 more reader reviews

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Katharine Weber is the author of the novels True Confections, Triangle, The Little Women, The Music Lesson, and Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber. For more information, visit her website at www.katharineweber.com.

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