Oscar Hammerstein II and the Invention of the Musical

Laurie Winer

Yale University Press, 2023

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

A new look at artist Oscar Hammerstein II as a pivotal and underestimated force in the creation of modern American culture

You know his work—Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I. But you don’t really know Oscar Hammerstein II, the man who, more than anyone else, invented the American musical. Among the most commercially successful artists of his time, he was a fighter for social justice who constantly prodded his audiences to be better than they were.
Diving deep into Hammerstein’s life, examining his papers and his lyrics, critic Laurie Winer shows how he orchestrated a collective reimagining of America, urging it forward with a subtly progressive vision of the relationship between country and city, rich and poor, America and the rest of the world. His rejection of bitterness, his openness to strangers, and his optimistic humor shaped not only the musical but the American dream itself. His vision can continue to be a touchstone to this day.


“A charming . . . passion animates [Winer’s] Oscar Hammerstein II and the Invention of the Musical.” —Brad Leithauser, New York Times Book Review

“Part biography, part analysis, this admirable book presents its subject as a likable man whose career, along with that of his protégé Stephen Sondheim, illuminates the evolution of the American musical.”New York Times, “9 New Books We Recommend This Week”

“Winer’s exploration of Hammerstein’s journey is timely, respectful, and deserving of inclusion in strong performing arts collections.” —Lisa Henry, Library Journal

“Quirkily entertaining. . . . [Winer’s] portrait of Hammerstein as a man who ‘found grace in every role’ is unexpectedly moving.” —Julia M. Klein, American Theatre

“This is a thoughtful and fond consideration of a major figure, humanized rather than canonized, telling of his dignity and devotion to craft, perseverance, and personal touch.” —Rob Lester, Talkin’ Broadway

“Laurie Winer’s wonderfully entertaining and deeply researched book paints a fascinating portrait of Oscar Hammerstein and successfully examines the usually ineffable art of collaboration in the theater. A must-read for anyone interested in the American musical.” —James Lapine, librettist of Into the Woods

“This engaging work is the sharpest, most insightful, most readable, and most optimistic of all the books about Oscar Hammerstein. It provides education and pleasure in equal measure.” —Michael Feinstein, founder, Great American Songbook Foundation

“What an impressive achievement! Laurie Winer’s book offers new insights into Oscar Hammerstein II’s groundbreaking achievements." —Robert Kimball, musical theater historian

“A magnificent, seminal and definitive book written as biographies ought to be. Winer brings to life a time and place in the history of theater. I now know who Oscar Hammerstein really was.” —André Bishop, artistic director, Lincoln Center Theater

“Laurie Winer’s fascinating and beautifully written biography makes an inspiring case for Oscar Hammerstein as the American musical’s greatest innovator and one of the American theatre’s greatest dramatists.” —Nicholas Hytner, director