This is the ultimate book for classical music record geeks. Imagine John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity obsessing about Wagner's Ring instead of the Velvet Underground, and you'll have an idea of the passion with which British music critic Norman Lebrecht details the century-long decline and fall of the classical recording industry. The Life and Death of Classical Music is a sad and sordid tale in other words, a real page-turner. Lebrecht does not hold back from expressing his Old-Testament-prophet horror over the unholy marriage between art and commerce. His lament is all the more lyrical because of his comprehensive grasp of the social and political context in which the quality of classical music recordings waxed (vinyled?) and waned. It's bad enough to know that von Karajan's recording career flourished under the Nazis; to learn, however, that the label Deutsche Grammophon employed slave labor during the war (including inmates from Auschwitz) to press those von Karajan recordings is enough to make you want to pull those old DG LP's off your dusty shelf and smash them.
There's something gleefully perverse about a book that hopes to sell by kvetching about how its subject won't sell anymore. Lebrecht loves the recordings he loves, but he loves hating the recordings he hates even more. That's one sublime geek.
Michael Alec Rose is an associate professor of composition at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music.