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Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams - The Early Years 1903 - 1940

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  295 ratings  ·  45 reviews
From Bing Crosby's early days in college minstrel shows and vaudeville, to his first hit recordings, from his 11 year triumph as star of America's most popular radio show, to his first success in Hollywood, Gary Giddins provides a detailed study of the rise of this American star.
Paperback, 768 pages
Published October 8th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published 2000)
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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Larry Brunt
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
First off, "Pocketful of Dreams" is a balanced biography. It would be nice if this didn't have to be noted, but especially in the case of Crosby, when his children and step-children have written scathing or adoring memoirs, it is refreshing when a biographer explores all aspects of a person, the strengths and flaws, some of which are deep. That said, what Giddins focuses on most is the music.

This award-winning book makes a strong argument for Crosby being under-appreciated as a leader of making
Nov 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
Was so interested in learning more about Bing Crosby. I wish this book hadn't been my first attempt. Oddly distant and overly obsessed with the most minor level of detail, the author seems unable to synthesize information and create a narrative in which anything rises to greater significance than anything else. It becomes almost a bed-to-bed story of Crosby's every action for the first forty years of is life. Given that there was a rise to stardom, family tensions, and personal drama with his ...more
Charles Matthews
Dec 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review originally ran in the San Jose Mercury News:

Strange to say, Bing Crosby needs this biography. Other major white male jazz/pop singers who were eclipsed in the rock revolution of the '60s managed to re-emerge. Frank Sinatra's bad-boy behavior kept him hot. Tony Bennett hung with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and got certified as hip by the MTV generation. Even Mel Torme benefited from Harry Anderson's worship of him on ''Night Court.'' Of course, they were around to help revive their
Ira Carter
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this after seeing a recommendation from my friend UG. It's not something I would have sought out on my own. It's no secret that Giddins is erudite and writes well, but he brought me into a whole part of musical history and popular culture about which I knew practically nothing. I enjoyed the book, and even if you think Bing is not your thing, you might be surprised and like it too.
Daniel Ziegelbauer
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's both hard to believe and understandable that this hefty volume only covers a fraction of Bing Crosby's life. I appreciate how the author resisted the all too easy path of mass media predictability to focus and score points on negative perspectives driven by a variety of motivations. Usually led by attention seekers. Instead, what we can experience here is a well-rounded, objective narrative based on multiple sources and historical context. What a wonderful beginning to the story of a life ...more
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustively researched and footnoted chronicle of the crooner's early years. Author Giddins is a well-known film and music critic and at times he can get pretty deep into the weeds when discussing music theory, vocal technique, etc. but for the most part the narrative flows smoothly. Giddins's version of the young Der Bingle has a few chinks in his armor (he drinks too much, he's not always smart with money) but overall this is a very positive portrait of the artist as rising star. This will ...more
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think that for many people of a certain age, Bing Crosby was always just sorta there. A backdrop to growing up, either on the radio or a television special / late-night movie. For many years I considered him passé, old fashioned and certainly no one you’d want to imitate or sound like. However, he truly did inspire my vocal style and now is someone who’s recordings and old radio shows I really enjoy listening too. The only thing I’d read about Bing before was Gary Crosby’s horrible ...more
Joe Faust
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I knew the Bingster was a hot item in his time - but I had no idea just how hot. Turns out the man has music industry records that stand today - not even beaten by Sinatra, Elvis, or yes, even the Beatles. That and other great tidbits are found in this, the first of a three-part biography, taking us up through 1940 and the production of his first Road movie with Bob Hope. Awaiting the next two volumes...
Linda A
Less than compelling

The book has some interesting facts, noting, for example, that he was the only educated popular musician of his time. But the excruciatingly detailed descriptions of the musical techniques of his songs and plots of his films make for dry reading in my view.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: show-bidness, bye-o
If it took me longer than usual, it’s just because what the author does here is more than a tour through Crosby’s life to 1940. He gives an extraordinary amount of context to show how a Bing Crosby could have happened and what he meant to popular culture once he did.

Heavily recommended.
Michael Harrel
Nov 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Very interesting book and topic. However it gets bogged down with minutiae.
Chuck Beilstein
Dec 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very technical musically. Covers into 40's, teasing next installment.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Looking forward to volume 2.
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams is a biography on the life and success of the singer and actor Bing Crosby throughout his life. In the Biography, Gary Giddins begins by talking about Crosby's childhood. He discusses how Crosby's parents try to push him to become a performer, even though it is not what he wants to do. Crosby decides to independently learn music while on his own in college, because he loves music and knows he can do it, which he becomes extremely good at really fast. Crosby's ...more
Linda J. Sandahl
Gary Giddens must be one of the best musical biographers ever. His biography of Louis Armstrong, perhaps the most influential musician of the 20th century, remains the definitive work and set an extremely high standard for factual accuracy, personal understanding, and historical and social context. He is able to meet that standard with this biography of Bing Crosby, another of the most influential musical performers in history, who was, not coincidentally, a close friend and admirer of ...more
Aug 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, biography
I've been a Bing Crosby fan since I was in my mid-teens, shortly before he died. I really don't know why. I guess the silliness of the Road movies with Bob Hope made me giggle, and his more serious roles--particularly in Going My Way--always choked me up a bit. I always looked forward to his annual Christmas special.

I don't know why they didn't include the actual title of this A Pocketful of Miracles--the Early Years.

Gary Giddens--music critic for the Village Voice--gives an in-depth look at
Very excited to have snared a new hardcover of this recent bio at Half Price Books for $2.
Now, the ole problem of page counts presents itself. Officially this book is "736 pages" long, but the last 144 pages are indexes and discographies and footnotes. The book actually ends on page 592. So that means in order to get an accurate running page count I have to "handicap" 144 pages. I'm not sure where in the process I should do this; perhaps at the halfway point.
This is an issue because I like to
Sarah Sammis
Jun 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: released
A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years only covers the first half of Bing Crosby's life. My favorite example of a biography written about a celebrity is The Real Mary Tyler Moore by Chris Bryers.

The book starts of slow as so many biographies do with unnecessarily details about Crosby's family background. I would have been happiest if the book had started the birth of Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby in Tacoma Washington. Yes, it's interesting that he had some sea captain relatives but I really didn't
Jun 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
A little slow at times, especially at the start, but a nevertheless a wonderful book. The first part of the career of the sadly currently undervalued Bing Crosby, a book that helps restore him to his rightful position at the very front of the musical performers of the 20th century. Mr. Giddins has written a highly entertaining biography that doesn't have to rely on scandal and here say to depict a far more complex and rounded figure than the all round good guy that Bing was portrayed as in his ...more
A little slow at times, and peppered with the authors enthusiastic-but-technical descriptions of Bing's work, but nonetheless a good read. The work has more in common with a well-written (IE: not boring) history than the modern crop of memoirs, or the scandal-mongering tell-all.

You'll find no dirty laundry here, but some clarifications of the man's true history, as can be best untangled after decades of press office tweaking and flip "I said it because it was funny" style wisecracks. Not to say
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, recommended
Who knew that Bing Crosby was such an influence on the early years of recorded music?

This is a fun look at a complicated, generous man and his unusual (for his time) instrument. His smooth, jazzy voice was his inroads to a stellar career, and Giddins focuses on his apex, into the '40s.

At one time, Bing was at the top of the radio, records and movie charts. There had been nobody like him. And he shared his fortunes with friends and family.

Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, brother Bob - they're all along
Mar 18, 2015 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
I decided to abandon this book after I dropped it for the 50th time and it broke my glasses. (Read: It's HEAVY.) I'm interested in Bing Crosby, but this book just feels like the author wanted to list every. single. fact. he found about anybody even tangentially related to Bing Crosby. There is a great deal of biographical information about his high school classmates. There is a history of vaudeville. There is -- I kid you not -- a detailed description of the purchase & lien arrangements for ...more
Oct 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Great bio of the 20th Century's first media superstar. Author is one of the most respected experts on jazz and does a first rate job of communicating Crosby's influence on pop music. By no means just a "second-rate crooner", Bing occupied a unique position at the crossroads of jazz and pop, and with the ascendancy of his career, he literally made jazz the sound of the 20th Century. Great companion to the Louis Armstrong bio in this list.
Bobby Hawthorne
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Bing is the most underrated entertainer of the 20th century — and arguably the most important. He bridged popular music and jazz, recorded more #1 hits than Frank, Elvis and the Beatles combined, sang the #1 song of the 20th Century (White Christmas) and was a huge movie star to boot. Too many baby boomers know him only from one holiday movie, orange juice ads and false accusations of being an abusive father.
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
As one of my favourite singers I am always looking for books about him. This one had a lot of interesting stories from his early vaudeville era and recordings, some of which I was unaware of previously.
The book was written in a very formal fashion which made it a very dry read. There was a lot of unnecessary family history that felt like it was only included because the author had spent so much time digging it up he put it in the book so his time wasn't wasted.
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The first hip white person born in America in Artie Shaw's words.

I've owned this book for over ten years but put off reading it until Giddins' was ready to publish volume two. With no publishing date on the horizon I decided to just go ahead and read it. Giddins understands jazz and vocalizing and did a good job of explaining Crosby's talent and innovations in those fields.
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really enjoying this! We've gotten to the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Frankie Trambauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Dixie Lee, and so much more. What a great story -- would be hard to believe if it weren't true! Who would have thought he'd gotten a classical HS diploma from the Jesuits, and went to law school? And then made it big 13 weeks after arriving in Hollywood with his high school pal from Tacoma?
Shannon Olsen
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Book was alright. Not much about his actual life (except when he was very young), but more about the businesses he was in. Notes and ranges he sang, mannerisms in acting, and a lot about the behind the scenes folks etc. Unfortunately, I found it a bit boring and long.
Jun 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This man is my favorite singer of all time, although he died when I was very young, he influenced my upbringing in the mind, heart and soul of my grandmother who adored him. Her influence on my life was obviously huge.
May 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music-books
I'd nominate this as the best music bio I've ever read. It combines the dogged research of Guralnick's Elvis books with the criticism and close listening of Dave Marsh's Elvis or Greil Marcus' Mystery Train.
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