Frank Sinatra makes good copy. Just ask Kitty Kelley, Pete Hamill and a host of other biographers who have charted the transformation of the small-fry singing sensation from Hoboken, N.J., into an international star. Excuse the hackneyed phrasing, but the style of James Kaplan's ambitious yet pedestrian tome is infectious.
A fresh approach this is not. Although he does add some worthy research to the story, Kaplan relies heavily on the previous Sinatra biographies, while indulging in clichés such as describing the young Frankie as a boy who could not "punch his way out of a paper bag."
Kaplan begins his biography with an epigraph from Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, clearly signaling that this is a serious biography along the lines of what Gary Giddons has done for Bing Crosby and Peter Guralnick for Elvis Presley. But Kaplan cannot write with either writer's grace or critical skills.
This detail-laden biography, which ends in 1954, is a kind of compendium, when what is needed is a more rigorous rinsing out of stories already familiar to Sinatra fans. And Kaplan enjoys retelling certain stories even when he cannot vouch for them.
For those just beginning their seminar on Sinatra, reading Kaplan is a good start. But Sinatra still awaits his best biographer.