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.