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Bang the Drum Slowly Paperback – April 1, 1984

47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Sure, Harris's most acclaimed novel, the second of his Henry Wiggen books, centers around a pair of ballplayers for the fictionally fabled New York Mammoths--the novel's narrator, pitcher Wiggen, and Bruce Pearson, his tag-along catcher and best friend. And sure, on one level, it's the conventional tale of a disparate dugout population cohering over the course of a season and marching ineluctably toward the World Series. But convention, like a 55-foot curveball, ends there and then scoots off in its own unpredictable direction. Harris's story--funny, bittersweet, and affecting--is, in the end, a haunting meditation on life, death, friendship, and loyalty. That it's set against the backdrop of the Major Leagues makes it a baseball novel. That it's a brilliant study of human nature, passionately felt and beautifully crafted, makes it enduring literature. --Jeff Silverman


"[Bang the Drum Slowly] has one of the loveliest last lines in American literature, a regret from Wiggen for the way the players made fun of a slow-witted and now dead teammate: ‘From here on in, I rag nobody.’ We could all use that on our coat of arms."—George Vecsey, The New York Times
(George Vecsey New York Times )

"Bang the Drum Slowly is more than just another novel about baseball. It is about friendship, about the lives of a group of men as one by one they learn that a teammate is dying. Henry's dead-pan, vernacular account of life in the dugout is refreshing, lively and often uproariously funny. His reactions to his doomed friend are poignant and profoundly touching. Bang the Drum Slowly is a fine bitter-sweet book."—New York Herald Tribune
(New York Herald Tribune )

"Bang the Drum Slowly makes wonderful reading—whether one hates baseball or loves it. . . . It is awfully funny in parts, and laughter is rare enough on anybody's bookshelf."—New York Times
(New York Times )

"What makes Bang the Drum Slowly unique . . . is Author Harris' mastery of his offbeat scene. . . . The talk is natural, larded with casual humor, earthiness and more than a touch of locker-room obscenity. . . . Harris has measured [the dimensions of his characters] with his heart as well as his eye and ear."—Time
(Time )

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803272219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803272217
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,088,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Randy Keehn VINE VOICE on August 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book some years back on a whim. Once I read it, it became one of my all time favorites. It is a heartwarming story about friendship and the extent to which one man will go to help another. Mind you, this isn't a story about one man laying down his life for another. That sort of heroism belongs in a different class altogether. Fortunately, most of us don't find ourselves in those situations. However, all of us, in one way or another, will likely find ourselves in a situation similar to the one that Henry Wiggen finds himself in. Henry's teammate, Bruce Pearson, is a borderline major league catcher who discovers, over the winter, that he has a terminal disease. Henry, an all-star major league pitcher, is the only non-family member who knows this secret. The relationship between Henry and Bruce is not one of best friends. The relationship is based more on the fact that Henry has sold Bruce a life insurance policy (which is what the pitcher does in the off-season). As such, Bruce, somewhat limited in intelligence, puts a special sort of trust in Henry. Although it would be easy to dismiss this trust as misguided, Henry takes the full responsibility for it and puts his own career on the line in doing so. In fact, he puts both careers on the line for his teammate and does it all so that Bruce's last year on Earth is a meaningful one. See how the little secret becomes a rallying cry for an under-achieving team. The ending is poignant in many ways but our hero is there to the end.
Unless you've got ice water in your veins, this book will touch you deeply. As you read it, ask yourself, "Would I have done the same thing?" The honest answer for most of us, unfortunately, is no.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on August 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
I first read Bang the Drum Slowly as a high school student and it stayed on my mind for several days after I finished it. In fact, it had such an impact on the way that I saw life that I was more than a little reluctant to read it again, fearing that my fond memories of the book would be spoiled. That kind of thing has happened to me several times in the past, but not this time. Bang the Drum Slowly is still the great book that I experienced the first time around.

In the era before free agency rules made millionaires out of very mediocre baseball players, even all-star left-handed pitchers had to find work in the off season. Henry Wiggin, star lefthander for what was probably the best team in baseball during the early 1950s, the New York Mammoths, was no exception. Henry took to selling life insurance and annuities to his fellow ball players and he became quite good at his sales job. One of Henry's customers was Bruce Pearson, a third-string Mammoth catcher who bought an insurance policy covering his life only to later discover that he was dying of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a disease that was incurable in the 1950s.

Bang the Drum Slowly at its base is a realistic baseball novel told in the words (and with the spelling skills) of a small town boy born during the Depression who had the physical skills to become a major league baseball pitcher. It is an honest look at what goes on off the field and in the clubhouse when athletes spend more time on the road, and with each other, than they spend with their wives and children. There are racial tensions, drinking problems, womanizing and personality clashes that have to be dealt with by management, a baseball management generally interested only in the club's bottom line.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on January 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book was reccomended to me by someone I work with, and I was hesitant to give it a try because I am not much of a sports fan, so a book largely about baseball seemed like it would be very painful. But I am very glad that I gave it a shot because this book is actually very good. It's subject manner is on the serious side (the longtime friend and teammate of a ball player discovers he is dying) but the narration is light and easy, keeping it from getting too dense and dramatic. The style is unique and makes for a pleasant, laid back read. The characters are well drawn and effecting, you get a very good sense of them all and it is impossible not to care about them. As someone who as I said is not a sports fan I can assure you that it is very readable even if you are not also. I will definitely be giving the author's other books in the series a try (I only wish that I had started with 'The Southpaw', which is the first in the series).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
"Bang The Drum Slowly", by Mark Harris, is a classic, in my opinion. It is right up there with "The Catcher in The Rye" by J.D. Salinger and "You know Me Al" by Ring Lardner. This book is moving, funny, and it makes the reader really want to know Henry "Author" Wiggen, who is the narrator and also a pitcher for the New York Mammouths. Wiggen (with Mark Harris really behind the character, of course), writes in a semi-illiterate style that simply adds to the novel's charm. It must be emphasized that this is not a baseball book, even though it takes place in a baseball atmosphere. Therefore, non-baseball fans shouldn't shy away from this brilliantly written book.
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