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The Great American Novel Paperback – April 11, 1995

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Editorial Reviews


"Shameless comic extravagance.... Roth gleefully exploits our readiness to let baseball stand for America itself." —The New York Times

"Roth invents baseball anew, as pure slapstick.... An awesome performance." —The New Republic

"Roth is better than he's ever been before.... The prose is electric." —The Atlantic

From the Inside Flap

Gil Gamesh, the only pitcher who ever literally tried to kill the umpire. The ex-con first baseman, John Baal, "The Babe Ruth of the Big House," who never hit a home run sober. If you've never heard of them?or of the Ruppert Mundys, the only homeless big-league ball team in American history?it's because of the Communist plot, and the capitalist scandal, that expunged the entire Patriot League from baseball memory.

In this ribald, richly imagined, and wickedly satiric novel, Roth turns baseball's status as national pastime and myth into an occasion for unfettered picaresque farce, replete with heroism and perfidy, ebullient wordplay and a cast of characters that includes the House Un-American Activities Committee.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 11, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679749063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679749066
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on September 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Philip Roth fans tend to divide into two categories. One group admires his more Henry James-like efforts: the Zuckerman books, "Deception," "Patrimony." And then there are those of us who like those books but also cherish every foul, hilarious, in-you-face word he's ever written, like in "Portnoy's Complaint," "My Life as a Man" and this wonderful mock history of baseball. (Although I can't say this enough: you don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy it.) This book, which is carefully ignored by the palefaces among Roth admirers, is his comic masterpiece. It is an encyclopedic satire of mid-20th century American life, with many pages that will have you falling out of your chair with laughter. It's a cult book, like "A Confederacy of Dunces" or Dan Jenkins' "Semi-Tough"; once you read it you will buy copies for your best friends.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By oh_pete on August 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Philip Roth's THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL is a big, bulbous, brocaded, bullshooting joke whether viewed from the box seats behind home plate or way in the back row of the right field bleachers-but let me not get pulled into the alliterative traps in which Roth indulges himself by way of his narrator, one Word Smith. Through the pen of the almost ninety-year-old "Smitty," we read the sad and disturbing tale of how the Ruppert Mundys of the mythical and defunct Patriot League were forced to spend all of 1943 playing away games after their owners sold their home stadium to the War Department as an embarkation point for our brave soldiers. Is Smitty as insane as many others obviously find him? Did the Mundys really have a one-legged catcher, a one-armed center fielder, a 14-year-old second baseman and a dwarf as a relief pitcher? Just who really is the Babylonian former ace pitcher Gil Gamesh? Was there really a Communist plot to destroy America by first destroying baseball?
It is curiosity and determination to finish this too-long-by-a-third book that may keep you reading through to the end, I'm afraid I had to force myself through it. We certainly aren't supposed to like any of the characters, so that means the story better hold us. And while it's a great story with a good number of laughs, there are too many long-winded passages that just aren't as funny once you get the rhythm down-the satire is dulled by them, in fact. I submit that Roth knew this and simply didn't care: by 1973 when this book was published he had been a bestseller for over twenty years. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he had a Dickensian paid-by-the-word contract for this book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Rosengarten on June 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
Smitty can talk. He's Master of Words, Master of Baseball History and Master of knowledge of the Patriot League. Ever heard of the Patriot League? I didn't think so. The Great American Novel will provide you with the history lesson your grandfather never told you about.

Previous reviews I read compared the book to Confederacy of Dunces. Both are excellent reads. Yes, it's nutty like Dunces, but if you are not a true lover of baseball, you may not like this book. It's all baseball (statistics, long explanations about players and their positions, and history).

Every baseball season I read a "baseball book" and this was my choice for 2006, although I bought the book more than 6 years ago (it sat on my shelf waiting for its day).

Some may find the book verbose and slow moving at times, but the overall style is quite unique and the story is hilarious. I laughed out-loud at least a dozen times.

I highly recommend this to baseball fans who aren't looking for Grisham-level writing. Roth shines with the TGAN. Don't wait 6 years like I did. Buy it now and read it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By JMack VINE VOICE on April 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
As a fan of Philip Roth, I approached this book about baseball with mixed emotions. After reading, I can say that this is one of Philip Roth's finest. Despite being forgotten among Roth's better known works, this book exceeded expectations in my view.

"The Great American Novel" is told from the perspective of sportswriter "Word" Smith. Smith brings to light a story omitted from American history, the third baseball league known as the Patroit League. While many of the stories seems eerily similar to real baseball stories, the tales go a step further. Just being introduced to the vagabonds known as the Ruppert Mundys is enough to make the average reader laugh aloud. From murderous pitcher Gil Gamesh to midgets and dwarfs in professional baseball through the communist scandals that ended the league and caused it to be erased from American history, it is difficult not to laugh. These fictional stories seem to parallel too well with this work of fiction. Even in the story of the performance enhancing food known as "Jewish Wheaties", Roth makes an eerie parallel to present baseball.

Baseball fans should should take delight in this book. I can say that it is among the best book I have read in some time. Fans of Philip Roth will enjoy this purely humorous side of his writing as this is his strongest effort in terms of humor. I highly recommend this book.
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