Monday, June 11, 2007

Book Review: Beyond the Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn

When I was growing up, I always hated history classes. History, as it was presented in school, was just a bunch of names and numbers; a bunch of uninteresting words on a page that we had to learn in order to pass exams, nothing more. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. You got the dates, you got the grade. It wasn't until college, when history papers required a little bit more thinking about who was behind the historical events, and what were they like, rather than just when did this happen? that history classes started becoming interesting rather than drudgery.

Sports fans can definitely sometimes end up reducing their sport's history to the same thing, in the end. Given baseball and other sports having a tendency towards statistics and numbers, there are times when all we really can do is describe a man by he hit sixty-one home runs in 1961, he hit 755 career homers. And sometimes you wonder, I know what he did, but who was he? What was he like?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Babe Ruth. Bobby Thomson. Roger Maris. Hank Aaron. Willie Mays. Duke Snider. Mickey Mantle. Eddie Mathews. Whitey Ford. Joe DiMaggio. Catfish Hunter. Pete Rose. Jack Dempsey. Muhammad Ali. Reggie Jackson. George Steinbrenner. Jackie Robinson. Roberto Clemente. Ring Lardner. Pee Wee Reese. Robert Frost. Stan Musial. Carl Furillo.

No, these aren't even all athletes. But feel free to pull up a chair and visit with them for a while through the eyes of Roger Kahn as he captures these men at various points in their lives and careers in Beyond the Boys of Summer. It's all about painting portraits, and casting off numerical anchors, and I for one really enjoyed reading this book, getting to know more about the people behind the names and numbers. There's even a bit of non-sports writing mixed in from time to time for variety.

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