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The Best American Sports Writing of the Century Hardcover – May 27, 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Given the overall vigor and volume of sports writing in America throughout the 20th century, the idea of compiling a single collection dubbed the "best" requires a daring balancing act of boldness and delicacy. And that's just what it is. Sports fans--but why limit this sparkling, spirited, passionate prose to just sports fans?--will revel in the equilibrium of David Halberstam's and Glenn Stout's wide range of selections. Their tribute to the knights of the keyboards is Hall of Fame-level from cover to cover.

Halberstam and Stout don't waste any time. They lead off with one of the great tours de force of American nonfiction, Gay Talese's stunningly poignant, 1966 profile of a moody Joe DiMaggio, "The Silent Season of a Hero." Then, before you can finish digesting it, they loudly switch gears to Tom Wolfe's "The Last American Hero," a razzle-dazzle look at Junior Johnson and the world of stock-car racing. By the time Best takes the checkered flag nearly 800 pages later, it has covered a remarkably rich and varied course that runs through the pens of such remarkable talents as Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Frank Deford, W.C. Heinz, Jim Murray, Murray Kempton, Ring Lardner, John Lardner, Jimmy Breslin, Al Stump, John Updike, John McPhee, Hunter Thompson, Norman Mailer, Jon Krakauer, Tom Boswell, Roger Angell, and David Remnick. Whew!

Like the best sportswriting, of course, Best is much more than fun and games, though there's plenty of that in its pages. Best is history captured on the fly through the games we play and the memorable players--Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, Mohammad Ali, Secretariat, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Red Grange--who play them. From selection to selection, writes Halberstam in his introduction, "we watch the country change." Certainly, sports--and sportswriting--have provided America a marvelous box seat for the contemplation of its own metamorphoses. --Jeff Silverman

From Publishers Weekly

Stout, editor of the Best American Sports Writing series since its inception nine years ago, and Halberstam, author most recently of Playing for Keeps, a biography of Michael Jordan (Forecasts, Jan. 18), have compiled a strong collection that will send readers on a captivating trip through the diversity of styles and subjects that developed as sports became big business and big news. Theres the direct address of Bob Considine (Listen to this buddy, for it comes from a guy whose palms are still wet, from Louis Knocks Out Schmeling) and the unique voice of Tom Wolfe (Ggghhzzzzzzzeeeeeong! from The Last American Hero, about racecar driver Junior Johnson). Although there are pieces about mountain climbing, tennis and chess, fully half of the selections are about two sports: baseball and boxing. The book begins with a Best of the Best section led by Gay Taleses 1966 profile of Joe DiMaggio, The Silent Season of a Hero. In the next two sections (which encompass deadline articles, columns, features and longer works), the strongest pieces, following Taleses lead, are penetrating profiles of the famous and difficult (e.g., Richard Ben Cramer on Ted Williams)as well as the largely forgotten (a run-of-the-mill boxer named Bummy Davis). The final section is a special six-piece tribute to man who himself claimed to be the best of the best Muhammad Ali.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Best American
  • Hardcover: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (May 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395945135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395945131
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #995,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
My girlfriend first brought the Best American Sports Writing series to my attention in 1992 by giving me that year's edition as a Chrismas present. I showed my gratitude by burying my head in its covers and ignoring the outside world (her included) until I had finished.
Since that time I have been a keen follower of the series. Because I live in Australia I have little prior background to many of the stories, but this perhaps gives me an objectivity which enhances my enjoyment.
The "Best American Sports Writing of the Century" is a seriously thick compilation of some fantastic pieces. Although falling short of the editors' lofty aims of being a portrait of American life over the past 100 years, it nevertheless manages to identify many of the people and defining moments that have become integral to (admittedly, my perception) of modern American history.
My favourite story - perhaps George Plimpton's `Medora Goes to the Game', a wonderfully uplifting tale of a father's sneaky attempts to convince his 9 year old daughter to aspire to his alma mater, set against the backdrop of the 1980 Harvard-Yale game. Second place to `Into Thin Air', Jon Krakauer's harrowing personal tale of tragedy on Everest. There are many other classics, too numerous to mention here - one that particularly fascinated me was Paul Solotaroff's shocking portrayal of steroid abuse in the body building world.
Brickbats to Murray Kempton's play-by-play account of a baseball game, which failed to inspire me (to be fair, possibly because I am not familiar with the game's intricacies).
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By A Customer on July 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Consistently great, always interesting and occasionally just plain fantastic sports writing, although I don't think you need to be a jock to enjoy this book - writing by Mailer, Talese, Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson speak to everyone regardless of the subject. This is a book to read and savor over a long period of time, to return to often, and share among friends. Halberstam's picks give the book a surprising and provocative historical edge. While the omission of A.J. Leibling and a few others are surprising, it's more than made up for by the inclusion of some superb surprises. Take this book on vacation - or take a vacation by reading this book.
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Format: Paperback
Great writers. Great subjects. Very insightful and revealing. A must, if you're a sports fan. Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams & Joe Louis, to name a very few of the fascinating articles...written by people who were there...a must read!
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book for several reasons--it is convenient in that you can quickly read one story and put the book aside without having to go back to get back into the story, it is full of excellent writing, and it gives beautiful glimpses into a very diverse group of sports. The book advertises itself as containing the "best" sports writing of the century and for the most past I would certainly agree, and disagreement has to be expected when you declare something the best, so it is great reading. It is fine journalism, telling captivating stories about people and games, but it is also does an excellent job of showing the importance of sports beyond the fields of play. I would highly recommend the book to sports loves, aspiring journalists, and I would also recommend many of the pieces for people who cannot understand why sports lovers really love sports.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
David Halberstam is often overlooked as a writer despite the success of his books during his lifetime. As one of the editors of this anthology, his introduction should be read by anyone wishing to understand why sports have become inseparable from American culture and how the skills of writers on the subject have concurrently matured. Although Halberstam was better known for his work as a journalist and historian, sports writing was his first love and the pieces in this collection must have been chosen accordingly. From Lardner to Updike and Deford these pieces all shine like gems illuminating uniquely American literature.
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Format: Paperback
If you enjoy reading about sports, there is little doubt you will enjoy many pieces in this book, especially if your interests lean toward boxing and baseball, which completely dominate this book.

I feel like readers would have better served if the editors had broken things down differently, perhaps by decade, or by sport, with 2 or 3 pieces from each. That would have given readers a much better feel for the breadth of sports in the 20th century.

But with this, the selections are clustered around mid to late century and as noted, are mostly about baseball and boxing. A very high percentage of the articles are about retired athletes bemoaning their lost "Glory Days."

Among the top selections are a long piece of Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, which stands out because it details an athlete who was active at the time the piece was written and is about football, which is barely mentioned in the book and Ring Lardner's "Eckie", which is the funniest and most irreverent piece in the book.

There is one article about hockey, a piece on the making of a goon and none about basketball. Track and field is not represented at all. The book is intended more for a New Yorker reader than a reader of the Sporting News; more for a fan of Roger Angell than Bill James.
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