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Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want To Be One (Jewish Lives) Hardcover – March 29, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Lives
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300136609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300136609
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Mark Kurlansky, a historian and a fan, zeroes in on Greenberg like Hammerin' Hank teeing off on a fastball."—Allen Barra, San Francisco Chronicle
(Allen Barra San Francisco Chronicle)

"A graceful appreciation."—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
(Bob Minzesheimer USA Today)

"It's the best of the lot because it kept surprising me."—Steven V. Roberts, The Washington Post
(Steven V. Roberts The Washington Post)

"Context is vital to the craft of biography. Kurlansky provides excellent context over and over. What he offers about Greenberg playing or not playing on Yom Kippur constitutes valuable context about Judaism"—Steve Weinberg, Jewish Journal
(Steve Weinberg Jewish Journal)

"Kurlansky effectively adds admirable layers to a 'quintessential secular Jew' often misunderstood and certainly deserving of more appreciation, on and off the field."—Post and Courier
(Post and Courier)

"Mark Kurlansky, a historian and a fan, zeroes in on Greenberg like Hammerin' Hank teeing off on a fastball."—Allen Barra, Newark Star-Ledger
(Allen Barra Newark Star-Ledger)

"Kurlansky's...volume puts a fascinating period of sports history into a vivid cultural context."—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

"Kurlansky...shows how the American Jewish experience can be a secular one, that playing baseball served as part of the Americanization process for immigrant families....For fans of baseball's golden greats, of interpretive biographies, and of [the Jewish Lives] series."—Library Journal
(Library Journal)

"If this fine biography is any sample of [the series] previously published and those still to come, these publications will make a stellar contribution to our understanding of notable Jews. . . . Mark Kurlansky offers an excellent, well-written analysis of the life and times of Hank Greenberg. . . . This account of Greenberg's life is thorough, insightful, and well-written."—Morton I. Teicher, National Jewish Post & Opinion
(Morton I. Teicher National Jewish Post & Opinion)

"Well-written, clear and concise."—Zachary Munson, The Weekly Standard
(Zachary Munson The Weekly Standard)

"This account of Greenberg's life is thorough, insightful and well-written. It achieves distinction by describing his character and career, setting them against the background of a turbulent era in Jewish history."—Morton Teicher, Jewish Journal
(Morton Teicher Jewish Journal)

"The prolific Kurlansky has outdone himself."—Jan Gardner, Boston Sunday Globe
(Jan Gardner Boston Sunday Globe)

“Kurlansky’s book is an excellent addition to the Yale University Press Jewish Lives series. It is, I suspect, no accident that most of the titles, both those already published and the projected volumes deal with secular Jewish lives. A few of those lives, like the one Kurlansky has given us in this well-written and unpretentious biography, may also speak of the need to hit.” — Leonard Kriegel, Forward 
(Leonard Kriegel Forward 2011-06-17)

Named one of Michigan's 20 Most Notable Books in 2012 by the Library of Michigan.
(Michigan Notable Book Library of Michigan 2012-01-03)

About the Author

Mark Kurlansky has written, edited, or contributed to twenty books, which have been translated into twenty-five languages and won numerous prizes. His previous books Cod, Salt, 1968, and The Food of a Younger Land were all New York Times best-sellers.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 12 customer reviews
As a middle aged lifetime baseball fan, I love reading about the history.
Stephen H Glaser
This slim 150-page book is an excellent introduction to Hank Greenberg, who longed to be referred to as a great baseball player, not a great Jewish baseball player.
Barry Sparks
Author sometimes went overboard, IMO, with too much backstory of immigrant Jews attempts at assimilation.
Andy Pollack

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Dr. W. Terry Lindley on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kurlansky's biography of Hank Greenberg, part of the "Jewish Lives" series of Yale University Press, places Greenberg's career within the context of the anti-Semitism of the Depression and early post-World War II era. The author is at his best in describing how Jews in various sports changed their names to avoid anti-Semitism and to hide their involvement in sports from their parents who disapproved of such activities. Even a number of popular Hollywood actors and actresses also changed their names. (Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, and Paulette Goddard are such examples.)

Greenberg responded to anti-Jewish tauts by fans and opposing players with restraint and used such insults to motivate him. Early in his minor league days, he employed physical confrontation on the diamond, but quickly came to realize such action was self-defeating. His restraint, coupled with his superstar status, made him a hero to the Jewish community, something he did not want to be. Kurlansky suggests that Greenberg's way of dealing with blatant racism was used by Branch Rickey as a model for Jackie Robinson.

The author also shatters a number of myths surrounding Greenberg. One such myth concerns his quest to shatter Babe Ruth's single-season homerun record in 1938. With five games left in the season and sitting at 58 homeruns, no one in baseball, the story goes, wanted a Jew to break the record of 60. Therefore, the anti-Semitic owners, managers, pitchers conspired to throw him nothing to hit in the season's final days. Kurlansky skillfully demolishes this myth, pointing out that Greenberg himself renounced it on several occasions.

However, the book provides limited information about Greenberg's baseball career.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hank Greenberg the son of immigrant Jewish parents grew up and played Major League Baseball during what was perhaps the time of the worst American anti-Semitism. Though his parents were Orthodox Jews, Hank was not a religious man. In the 1930's he went on to become the biggest of stars as a Detroit Tiger... coincidentally in the backyard of one of America's worst anti-Semites... and a pal of Hitler's... Henry Ford... he always said he wanted to be judged as a ballplayer and not as a "JEWISH BALLPLAYER". Whether he wanted to be or not... he was a hero to an American nation of Jews, both young and old. His parents were emblematic of the typical mindset of Jewish parents who originally thought playing baseball was an embarrassment, as compared to striving to get an education as a doctor, lawyer, or other skilled profession. But when Hank became a legend in Detroit, for among other things coming close to the infamous Babe Ruth's single season homerun record of sixty, when he hit fifty-eight in 1938... even his parents became proud of him, not only as an individual ballplayer... but as proof of what a Jewish person could accomplish in America. So whether Hank wanted to or not... he was a hero to Jewish people throughout the land.

The author does a good job of highlighting Hank's absolute modesty... when along with bashing balls out the park in magnificent quantities... he also became the highest paid active player in baseball... and to that period of time... the second highest paid in history behind the one and only Babe Ruth. It is also emphasized how hard working Greenberg was in his pursuit of his baseball dreams. Additionally, it's also made clear that he faced more prejudicial hate of any player before Jackie Robinson. And like Robinson in years to come he had his own version...
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By dcreader VINE VOICE on April 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's important to understand up front that Hank Greenberg: the Hero that Didn't Want to be One is part of the Yale Press Jewish Lives series. The series contains short (approximately 150pp) biographies designed to "explore the breadth and complexity of Jewish experience from antiquity through the present." So, we know not to expect a standard sports biography, or even one that captures every facet of Greenberg's life.

On those terms, this is a remarkable book. The book's subtitle, although a bit awkward, captures its thesis nicely. Despite being born into a Jewish family, Hank Greenberg was virtually non-observant and disliked the attention he received as a "Jewish" ball player. Kurlansky spends substantial time on the episode where Greenberg decided against playing on Yom Kippur, revealing that had it been left to Hank, he certainly would have played. His parents' expectations and other social pressures, not his personal religious devotion, kept him away from the ballpark that day.

Escaping the tag "Jewish ballplayer" though, would prove impossible for Hank. Most newspaper accounts would mention it. He would be heckled tremendously for it (though not as bad as Jackie Robinson would endure later). He quickly learned, however, that ignoring hecklers was the only effective means to combat them. He used the heckling to spur him on to greater degrees of excellence. He even denied that anti-Semitism was at play during his chase of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1938 (he finished with 58). Later in life he even yelled at an elderly fan who brought it up. Greenberg simply did not like the fact that his Jewishness would color his achievements or even his failures. He could, however, not escape it.
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More About the Author

Mark Kurlansky is a New York Times bestselling and James A. Beard Award-winning author. He is the recipient of a Bon Appétit American Food and Entertaining Award for Food Writer of the Year, and the Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award for Food Book of the year.

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