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Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game [Kindle Edition]

John Thorn
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $10.37
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Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc

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Book Description

Think you know how the game of baseball began? Think again.

Forget Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown. Forget Alexander Joy Cartwright and the New York Knickerbockers. Instead, meet Daniel Lucius Adams, William Rufus Wheaton, and Louis Fenn Wadsworth, each of whom has a stronger claim to baseball paternity than Doubleday or Cartwright.

But did baseball even have a father—or did it just evolve from other bat-and-ball games? John Thorn, baseball’s preeminent historian, examines the creation story of the game and finds it all to be a gigantic lie, not only the Doubleday legend, so long recognized with a wink and a nudge. From its earliest days baseball was a vehicle for gambling (much like cricket, a far more popular game in early America), a proxy form of class warfare, infused with racism as was the larger society, invigorated if ultimately corrupted by gamblers, hustlers, and shady entrepreneurs. Thorn traces the rise of the New York version of the game over other variations popular in Massachusetts and Philadelphia. He shows how the sport’s increasing popularity in the early decades of the nineteenth century mirrored the migration of young men from farms and small towns to cities, especially New York. And he charts the rise of secret professionalism and the origin of the notorious “reserve clause,” essential innovations for gamblers and capitalists. No matter how much you know about the history of baseball, you will find something new in every chapter. Thorn also introduces us to a host of early baseball stars who helped to drive the tremendous popularity and growth of the game in the post–Civil War era: Jim Creighton, perhaps the first true professional player; Candy Cummings, the pitcher who claimed to have invented the curveball; Albert Spalding, the ballplayer who would grow rich from the game and shape its creation myth; Hall of Fame brothers George and Harry Wright; Cap Anson, the first man to record three thousand hits and a virulent racist; and many others. Add bluff, bluster, and bravado, and toss in an illicit romance, an unknown son, a lost ball club, an epidemic scare, and you have a baseball detective story like none ever written.

Thorn shows how a small religious cult became instrumental in the commission that was established to determine the origins of the game and why the selection of Abner Doubleday as baseball’s father was as strangely logical as it was patently absurd. Entertaining from the first page to the last, Baseball in the Garden of Eden is a tale of good and evil, and the snake proves the most interesting character. It is full of heroes, scoundrels, and dupes; it contains more scandal by far than the 1919 Black Sox World Series fix. More than a history of the game, Baseball in the Garden of Eden tells the story of nineteenth-century America, a land of opportunity and limitation, of glory and greed—all present in the wondrous alloy that is our nation and its pastime.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"It is said in folklore circles that when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalize what would otherwise be baffling," writes noted baseball historian Thorn (Total Baseball). "Such has been the case with baseball." Thorn strives to set the record straight. Among his innumerable revelations are that gambling actually legitimized the game, and that baseball's presence in America dates back to at least 1791 in Pittsfield, Mass. Long believed to be the founding fathers of baseball, Alexander Joy Cartwright and Abner Doubleday were the tools of "those who wanted to establish baseball as the product of an identifiable spark of American ingenuity." Thorn has done an admirable job in uncovering the truths and fossils of baseball's foggy prehistoric era, but the book is so dense with key figures and historical minutiae (the book spans from ancient Egypt to the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939) that it becomes plodding. With the help of an index and a highlighter, baseball lovers will savor the book as reference material. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


“With elegance, wit and precision, John Thorn traces the lineage of baseball, a melting pot of cultures and diversions that became quintessentially American. Baseball in the Garden of Eden is a must read for anyone who claims to know the game.”

—Jane Leavy, Author of The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and The End of America’s Childhood and Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy

“Baseball’s creation myth—Abner Doubleday in a Cooperstown pasture in 1839—has the merit of being enchanting but the defect of being false in every particular. Now comes another of John Thorn’s many contributions to our understanding of baseball, proof that the game is even older and more interesting than most fans know.”

—George F. Will, Author of Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball

“What a garden of delight! John Thorn takes us through the tangled history of the game’s origins with great good humor and flair. He accepts nothing on face value, but gives all sides their due. A pleasure for fans, but also for anyone with an interest in history and myth.”

—Kevin Baker, Author of Strivers Row

“No one knows baseball history as well as John Thorn or writes about it more ably. And there is no one better suited to record—with affection, amusement and sometimes hilarity—the chicanery, misrepresentation and downright lies that have obfuscated the fascinating story of the origins and development of our national game.”
—Robert W. Creamer, Author of Babe: The Legend Comes to Life and Stengel: His Life and Times

“No sport clings to its myths like baseball, which means it takes a baseball historian of the first rank like John Thorn to turn those myths upside down and inside out. Baseball in the Garden of Eden offers enlightenment for every fan. It is also a joy to read.”

—Michael Shapiro, Author of Bottom of the Ninth and The Last Good Season

“An invaluable, enduring and unique history of the early game and how it swiftly changed, in some ways for the worse, and yet survived and thrived."

—David Nemec, Author of The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Baseball

“The One True Game’s old creation myths are nowhere near as interesting and as much fun as the truths that Thorn digs up about the conspiracies, vices, and raucous behavior of baseball’s earliest innings.”

—Robert Lipsyte, author of An Accidental Sportswriter

“No one, absolutely no one, knows more about the history of our national pastime than John Thorn, and this new book ought to settle once and for all many of the questions fans have about baseball’s origins. Superb.”
—Ken Burns

“John Thorn's Baseball in the Garden of Eden reveals a secret history of the early game that is more fantastical (and funny) than any concocted story.”

—Jim Bouton, Author of Ball Four

"If you love history or baseball, you will enjoy Thorn’s impeccably researched tome; if you love both, you will be mesmerized."
—Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post

Product Details

  • File Size: 2853 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0043RSJ7M
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #492,265 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Prodigious research but doesn't hit a homer May 22, 2011
Perhaps the secret to this book is revealed in the first paragraph of the acknowledgements at the back. John Thorn writes that he spent more than 25 years accumulating information on the origins of baseball, and his research could continue endlessly. But he had to do a book eventually, and so he did the best he could. The result is a book full of interesting information but a lack of unity.

On many levels, the book is excellent. Thorn does a great service by dispelling the myths that Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright invented baseball. He shatters those myths and gives proper credit to the many skeptics who challenged those claims decades ago. That's fine.

But in other ways, it stumbles when Thorn attemptss two tougher tasks: explain how baseball did develop, and explain why/how Doubleday was inaccurately fingered as the game's visionary. The problem is that in tracking those two stories, Thorn keeps crossing back and forth distractedly, while providing a series of "so what?" moments.

First, the history of the game. Thorn does a wonderful job of detailing the baseball-playing environment in metro areas in the US in the 1930s and 1940s and why the N.Y. Knickerbockers were (incorrectly, exaggeratingly) credited as playing the first baseball game and creating the game's first written rules. He gives credit to the other NY-area teams that can equally claim to have set the rules that we know of as baseball. He writes (as have others) that if the Knickerbockers were the first team, how could they lose their first game 23-1? Obviously, others were playing a similar game at a similarly high level.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Quiz: What city was the Forest City team from? The Kekionga? These are two of baseball's earlier teams from the 1870s.

If you are a baseball fan and interested in the sport's history, this book would be a fun read. It is written in a rather non-linear fashion which can frustrate one, but--nonetheless--it ends up working out pretty well. I enjoyed this book. Do you believe that Abner Doubleday had anything to do with the origin of baseball? Prepare to be disappointed! But--even stranger, how did Doubleday come to be so honored, as was his home town of Cooperstown, NY?

This book goes back well before Doubleday and other purported founders to show where the game evolved from. Cricket? Rounders? The Massachusetts game? The New York game? And so on. Certainly the precursors of American baseball were apparent before Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the early 1840s.

Many of baseball's early stars and founding figures are discussed here: Harry Wright, Candy Cummings, Cap Anson, and A. G. Spalding--baseball player and later businessman. Indeed, the story of Spalding helps to explain Doubleday's honor. No spoilers here, but, he, his paramour and future wife, Elizabeth Churchill Mayer, and Abner Doubleday were all Theosophists--with Doubleday at one point serving as President of the society.

All sorts of historical byways are explored, in baseball and in the larger society.

A lot of fun. . . .

Oh, by the way, it was the Rockford (IL) Forest Citys and the Fort Wayne Kekionga!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a look into pre/post civil war baseball I find this book to be a wonderful account into it's evolution. Upon reading I could feel the huge amount of time and research Thorn must of spent assembling and laying out this wonderful window to America's past. However, I do have two opportunities with this book, one of which exclusive to the Kindle edition.

First, the amount of time spent on the birth and development the Theosophical Society, a turn of the century "New Age" movement, felt much. The group was the force in perpetuating the Doubleday myth, but their history seemed to this reader overdone. Passages spent telling of a Russian Madame founder and her moving to India seemed out of place in a book that I purchased out of a desire to learn about early baseball.

Second I found it disheartening that my Kindle edition did not include the photo's of the early baseball pioneers that were included in the hardbound edition. I am certain that the kindle 3 screen would be able to do them justice based on the author images provided when putting the kindle in sleep mode. It would be nice to have seen the pictures surrounded by the rich history the author shared in the text.

Overall I would recommend purchasing the hardbound over kindle edition, as the collection of baseball artwork is one of the appealing attributes to nearly any baseball history book.

(4 stars hardcover / 3 stars kindle)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Scanning through the previous reviews here, I found that "Avid Reader" of 22 May 2011 well articulated many of my criticisms of this book. I would like to add a few other comments, however.

First of all, I think this book will be fascinating to anyone who is interested in baseball and its history, hence my four-star rating. There is a wealth of information here that goes well beyond anything I've seen before. To me, though, the book is in desperate need of better editing.

The book begins with the story of the Mills Commission, organized at the behest of Albert Spalding in the early twentieth century to determine the origins of baseball. The commission's final report in 1908 stated, with Abraham Mills's judicious reservations, that Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839 in Cooperstown, NY. This is a strong way to enter into the central theme of Thorn's book, baseball's origins and origin myths. If it were up to me, he would then trace the other possible "inventors" of baseball, debunking them as needed, and eventually offering his own views on where and how baseball developed. Instead, I found the first few chapters very haphazard in their organization. In them, Thorn jumps back and forth across various time periods and between various clubs in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts, seemingly discussing new facts in the order that his research revealed them, rather than in a more coherent narrative. It is revealed that parts of the book were originally published as journal articles; perhaps this explains the unclear progression of these chapters. I think a strong editor could have found a better way to structure this part of the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating history
John Thorn has produced a magnificently researched and well-written history of baseball's origins. The reader will come across familiar names and facts and then come upon important... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Austin
5.0 out of 5 stars who knew scrub on the St. Stephen's playground was the New England...
Any true baseball fan (fanatic) will thoroughly enjoy the detailed history of the great game laid out in this book.
Published 7 months ago by steve smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating intrique in the history (and politics) of the National...
As a lifetime baseball fan I was very interested in its origin and history. I bought the Kindle version to take to spring training this year.
Published 8 months ago by James F. Forbes
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
Confusing boring book. Expected more in terms of teams Baseball through history. Book overlooked baseballs many cultural contributions to our values and lifestyle through the ages.
Published 10 months ago by Paul Halpert
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
This is a must read for baseball and history fans. This book has excellent research and storytelling about the creation of baseball as we know it today. Read more
Published 11 months ago by John
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book About The Early Days Of Base Ball
With "Baseball in the Garden of Eden," author John Thorn has written an incredible history of the early days of baseball. Read more
Published 19 months ago by The Gyro Captain
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Research, a little dry...
I love baseball's history. When I had a chance to get John Thorn's book for a great price, I snapped it up. Great research in a pretty good read. I am not disappointed. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Chops
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read.
A great read. History of baseball in the 19th century. Explains the Doubleday myth. Also makes clear that Jackie Robinson was not the first African American Major Leaguer.
Published 20 months ago by Howard L. Rubenfield
1.0 out of 5 stars Exercise in pedantry
Unfortunately, this is an exercise in pedantry. This baseball lover was looking forward to reading the author's historical revelations. Read more
Published 24 months ago by mkseltzer
5.0 out of 5 stars Baseball in the Garden of Eden
I have a life long love for the game of baseball. This book enhanced that love and taught me things about the history of the game that I had not known. Read more
Published on December 13, 2012 by John A. Matta
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