By Stuart Isacoff
Alfred A. Knopf,$30.00, 365 pages

You can find the instrument in concert, recital and symphony halls, stadiums, churches and clubs. For over three centuries, millions of people have learned how to play the piano. Whether you play or are a fan of certain pianists or composers, Stuart Isacoff’s book A Natural History of the Piano is for you. Isacoff is a pianist, critic and teacher who has spent decades researching the history of one of the world’s most popular and beloved instruments. The artists are divided into four categories: The Combustibles, The Alchemists, The Rhythmitizers and The Melodists. Along with his own melodic prose, Isacoff includes quotes from musicians and other authors. The book’s 141 illustrations consist of cartoons, photographs, pictures of instruments, portraits and paintings. The author features the music of Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, Haydn, Mozart, Liszt and other groundbreaking artists like Nat King Cole, Scott Joplin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington and more. Mini essays debate topics such as jazz versus the classics and technique. Learn about how the piano was invented and how its design has changed over the centuries. Read about your favorite pianists and discover new artists to delight your ear.

Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin