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Death Comes to Happy Valley: Penn State and the Tragic Legacy of Joe Paterno (Kindle Single) [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Mahler
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $1.99

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Book Description

How does a man become mythic, and what happens when the myth collides with reality? Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State football coach, modeled his life and career after the classic heroes he loved, but in the end his story was a modern tragedy. The winningest coach ever in college football, crafter of The Grand Experiment that put honor and academics above all else, finished his days under the dark cloud of shame and unspeakable child abuse.

How? Why? What mix of fandom, ego, and unfettered power brought Penn State and its beloved coach to this? Just days after Paterno’s death comes this insightful look at the rise of Penn State under the 46-year reign of the man affectionately known as Joe Pa. Acclaimed writer Jonathan Mahler, author of the bestseller "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning", has been immersed in reporting the Paterno saga since the scandal broke last fall. His penetrating narrative traces the arc of Paterno’s career from dogged Ivy League quarterback to visionary coach to unassailable icon. Over the years, as his fame and reputation grew, Happy Valley (as State College, Pennsylvania, was often called) morphed into the realm of Paterno; the chant “We Are Penn State” could just as easily have been “We Are Coach Paterno.” It was perhaps inevitable that what Mahler calls “a slow rot” began to pervade Joe Pa’s football program, culminating with the horrific scandal that rocked Penn State and forever altered the Paterno story.

"As it all unraveled," Mahler writes, "he seemed to resemble less his hero Aeneas, building a new nation—Penn State Nation—in Happy Valley, than King Lear, clinging stubbornly to the throne when he no longer had the judgment required to remain in it, then succumbing to the grief and anguish that accompanied the collapse of everything he had so painstakingly built."

Mahler’s admiring yet honest assessment shows what can happen when a school, and an entire community, falls under a cult of personality. Part eulogy, part post-mortem, part wise appraisal, "Death Comes to Happy Valley" is a thoughtful farewell to the larger-than-life man who was, in fact, merely mortal.


"An elegant book with a perfect ratio of reportage, biography and criticism. It gently pulls Joe Pa off the pedestal upon which he has long stood." — Dwight Garner, The New York Times

Jonathan Mahler is a contributing writer to the "New York Times Magazine" and the author of the bestselling "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City" (the basis for the ESPN mini-series “The Bronx Is Burning”) and "The Challenge: How a Maverick Navy Officer and a Young Law Professor Risked Their Careers to Defend the Constitution—and Won."

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Product Details

  • File Size: 299 KB
  • Print Length: 47 pages
  • Publisher: Byliner Inc. (January 24, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0071NAZPE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,345 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
108 of 118 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but not completely accurate January 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
First off, I'll offer you full disclosure. I am a fourth generation Penn Stater and I have spent a good portion of my life in Happy Valley.

This book is a good primer for those who know little about Joe Paterno and would like some context for the events of the past few months. Mahler does a nice job of showing Paterno's rise to power and prominence at Penn State and in the sports world.

The inaccuracies come when Mahler begins to discuss Paterno's downfall. He devotes several pages to an account of a former graduate assistant named Matt Kipnis, who spent two years with the program almost a quarter century ago. Kipnis claimed Paterno's "grand experiment" was a "sham" and most assistant coaches thought he was a prick. Mahler mentions nothing of the assistant coaches who spent decades coaching under Paterno. Nor does he mention the players from that era who are proof that Paterno's dedication to both academic and athletic success was anything but a "sham." Also, it turns out that Matt "Kipnis" is actually a guy named Matt "Paknis." Quickie kindle book or not, that's a pretty egregious error for an author to make. It makes you question the editing process that this piece went through.

Mahler takes great pains to mention the players with criminal charges that were allowed to play. What isn't discussed is the fact that in several high-profile cases, charges against his players were eventually dropped. When Mahler gets to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and how the coach handled information about an incident involving Sandusky and a 10-year-old boy in a shower room, Mahler writes "Paterno notified the school's athletic director, Tim Curley, period." Mahler left out the fact that Paterno also told the PSU official charged with overseeing the campus police.

Joe Paterno was not a saint or a sham, but something in between. History will render judgment on him. I just hope that those looking to judge Joe Paterno know all the facts before they do.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written parachute journalism; superficial March 6, 2012
By T Boyer
Format:Kindle Edition
Mahler parachuted into the Sandusky story, and after all of 2 days of hanging around State College attending press conferences, opined in the Times that Paterno was "almost certainly guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy."

This santimonious long-form piece appears to benefit from another week or two of reporting. It's still basically a clip job. It captures a little more nuance, but not much.

Paterno was flawed, complex, like all truly great men and women.

It would be great to read a Paterno biography by someone who isn't a sycophant but also someone who spends the time to actually get to know Paterno. I don't think Mahler is the guy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Light and pre-mature April 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is a once over lightly review of Joe. Quickly written shortly after recent events, it lacks the depth I wanted. As a graduate of Penn State, I wanted more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars way too soon May 7, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
There is some information that offers a understandable overview - but from a distance at best. The conclusions are what sinks this book. That is, it was written far too soon. As more and more information comes out - fact from fiction becomes evident. In a few years - after trials and lawsuits - this book and, sorry to say, this author, will look like the knee jerk quick buck that it is. And that is too bad and too late for everyone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DEATH COMES TO HAPPY VALLEY April 5, 2013
By Barry
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I ENJOYBED reading the book.The women narrator was horrible and should be banned. I Have had her in other books and she is unbearable.She has turned me off to Audible books completely..

was horrible as always...The
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars >>>> July 24, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not really what I expected. It was extremely short and not very informative. Read more like a newspaper article. I do not recommend spending the money on this book.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight and cursory March 14, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Lack of depth reporting about the roots of the Sandusky scandal erspecially troublesome in this short piece even after the author opens up possibilities by mentioning the insular power base that Penn State allowed Paterno to create when football program removed from academic supervision. Piece needs journalism rigor.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another (untruthful) view March 18, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
I am an alumni of Penn State and know football players who have played under Joe Paterno. He was a great man and had given so much to the university as well as the community. No he is not perfect, however, not many people come close to Mother Teresa. He was mainly concerned about the education of his players. Mahler should dig up info on players who were coached by Paterno and they will tell you so. Mahler certainly does not have the full story on the scandal and once again as the media had done, appears to try to place an onus on Joe Paterno. The man was 75 when Mike had told Paterno what he had witnessed in the shower. Paterno told TWO superiors of what was reported to him. Again, he did not witness this and for a 75 year-old man, this must have been uncomprenhensible. Most of us have superiors that we are required to report to and it is no different with a university football program, regardless of what the media reports. (I would bet all the money, that most of the "dart-throwers' would have done the same thing, perhaps not tell anyone at all.) There is more to the scandal that the media never brought to light - but tawdry sells better, regardless of the truth. But more importantly, there is much more to Joe Paterno that Mahler has absolutely no idea about. I look forward to an author who does more research.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars informative but missing something!
Somewhat disappointed with the abrupt ending of the book. Thought it would have been appropriate to give readers a flavour of how Paterno ended his days at Penn and the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Don B
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
This was a good book to read while the issue was in the news. Some of it was hard to accept as an apology or whatever.
Published 4 months ago by Louise Cairoli
1.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate
Regurgitation of the standard inaccurate media narrative. I did not enjoy this book. I would not recommend spending any money on it.
Published 6 months ago by Lawrence C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Any one who was interested in the story of what happened during that time at Penn State should read this book
Published 9 months ago by Mary S. Noel
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
I enjoyed this book.I lived through this era and found it so true to the enjoyable minutes of football that l remember.
Published 9 months ago by nursey
4.0 out of 5 stars Power corrupts for sure
I follow some college ball and pro-football. I knew Mr. Paterno had a big impact at Penn State. I followed the news when the child abuse situation occurred and was interested in... Read more
Published 10 months ago by jude734
3.0 out of 5 stars The title is the best part
A very cursory examination of Joe Paterno's life and the molestation scandal; shines in exploring Paterno's early years but pretty thin on the scandal.
Published 10 months ago by Detroit Crime Buff
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting
Interesting quick read. Not much I didn't know already but well written. I had interest in the subject matter. Kind of expected more.
Published 10 months ago by Maureen Sovern
4.0 out of 5 stars Paterno's time at Penn State
This very short book gave me an understanding of how Joe Paterno became so very important at Penn State and how his position became so important to him that he could try to... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Gemma
1.0 out of 5 stars A very sad commentary about a great school.
This is a very difficult and something that touches the hearts of every Pennsylvanian . It is difficult for me a former resident to comment about the subject. Read more
Published 12 months ago by David Huffnagle
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