This book isn't for those deep into player-piano history and technology, but for curious outsiders like me. I found it interesting and well-written. It's about reproducing pianos, but it's also about history as something as personal as memory and how that sticks with you. I don't doubt that Dolan has omitted stuff. I'm still unsure how such instruments work or how compatible competing firms rolls were. Could an Aeolian roll be played on a Welte-Mignon? Could a Duo-Art roll be played on Story & Clark? Given the sales figures, I'd imagine so, but Dolan doesn't tell me. I enjoyed the portraits of the enthusiasts. It's an eccentric bunch, in the sense that the population at large no longer shares their passion. And, yes, you do have to be a bit starry-eyed (and well-off) to collect instruments, as some do. I mean, just dedicating the space requires some devotion. It's not like collecting stamps. However, that passion makes the subjects sympathetic, rather than figures of fun. This book convinced me that the reproducing piano not only legitimately claims historical importance, but love.
The social history grabbed me. Dolan doesn't shove your nose in it but leads you along gracefully. I especially liked the sections on the African-American artists -- Fats Waller, J. P. Johnson, J. Lawrence Cook, and others -- who produced the rolls. At a time when many mainstream venues were denied them, the piano rolls offered a way to make not only money, but in some cases a living, simply because the artists were, to borrow Ralph Ellison, invisible men. Middle-class and upper-income households who never would have thought of blacks as anything but yard workers, cooks, and maids, ironically, entertained them in the parlor, through technology.
Again, I enjoyed the book, and I learned something from it as well.