I recently enjoyed reading Vernon and Irene Castle's Ragtime Revolution, Eve Golden's 2007 biography of the most famous dance couple of the 1910s. This is not the fantasy-romance of the 1939 Astaire & Rogers film, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, nor does it spend as much time on their actual dance accomplishments as I would have liked. The author is a silent film aficionado, and the book focuses more on the Castles as celebrities and stars of theater and film than it does on the specifics of their influence on dancing. (She devotes a fifteen-page appendix to a filmography, but dances are not even listed by name in the index!) That said, it adds a great deal of interesting background and thoroughly debunks the entire misty romantic myth of the Castles in favor of a more realistic portrait of their marriage as affectionate but later primarily a business relationship. From hints that Vernon might have been bisexual to Irene's affairs to their impending divorce at the time of Vernon's death (so that he could marry another woman), this book carefully puts back in as much as can be reconstructed of what Irene Castle left out of her own books, My Husband (1919) and Castles in the Air (1958). Those interested in the off-the-dance-floor escapades and accomplishments of the Castles and their associates will find it absolutely fascinating.
From a dance historian's perspective, however, the book is somewhat disappointing. I was startled in her acknowledgments to see only one person whose name I recognized as having any connection with dance history (Sonny Watson of the Streetswing website), and in particular not to see Stanford dance historian Richard Powers, whose wide knowledge of the Castles and collection of related ephemera would have been helpful to her. Her bibliography includes only a few dance books of the era, and she doesn't seem to have much background knowledge of the topic:
By the 1910s, dance schools had been earning their keep for a century by teaching resentful children the waltz, quadrille, minuet, Virginia reel, perhaps a sedate polka.
She also wildly overestimates the difficulty of the material, claiming that instructions such as these would leave "many readers in tears of frustration":
The Grapevine, sometimes called the Serpentine Step. Counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Positions: Gentleman's left foot to side - 1; right back - 2; left side - 3; right forward - 4; left side - 5; right back - 6; left side - 7; right forward - 8. Counterpart for lady.
I suspect the average dancer (or, in fact, anyone who can stand up and tell right from left) would be able to follow these instructions (taken from The tango and other up-to-date dances, by J.S. Hopkins) without too much difficulty. That she considers the instructions in the Castles' own manual, Modern Dancing, simple by comparison suggests that she didn't spend much time reading it; while Vernon was an entertaining writer, his step instructions leave a great deal to be desired.
Golden does, however, discuss other famous dancers of the era, in particular the Castles' rivalry with Maurice Mouvet, as well as the Castles' work with black musician/composer/conductor James Reese Europe. It's just a shame that she goes into almost no detail about the dances themselves. But these matters have been and will continue to be addressed by dance historians. Golden's book is certainly of interest for its biographical detail and its placement of the Castles in the social and theatrical context of their era, and I do enthusiastically recommend it on that basis.