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Joe DiMaggio : The Hero's Life Paperback – October 2, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

In a stunning feat of meticulous reportage, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ben Cramer ultimately puts to rest the "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" question with iconoclastic bravura. In Cramer's evaluation, the hero America held onto so desperately for so long was really a creation of a nation's communal imagination. The Joe DiMaggio that America tried so hard to believe in was never really here at all.

There was, of course, a Joe DiMaggio, and he had a splendid career in Yankee pinstripes--once hitting safely in an unimaginable 56 consecutive games--and a troubled marriage with Marilyn Monroe, each augmenting the other in our national mythology. But myths tend to be skin-deep, and Cramer's biography thrives in an internal geography well below the surface. The map he charts is of a cold, small, often nasty, uncaring, resentful, self-centered man, a man of public grace and private misery who broke friendships, shunned family, and chased money with the same focused energies he once harnessed to run down fly balls. It's not a pretty picture.

Scrupulously researched and elegantly written, The Hero's Life is filled with stories and reminiscences, both on and off the field, from others--not surprisingly, DiMaggio offered no cooperation--that both illumine the man and, more fascinatingly, explain our very need for him. Amid all the success and adulation, there was little joy in DiMaggio's life, and few moments--beyond the real heartache he felt over Monroe--of connection with others beyond Joe's personal need for others to serve him. "No one really knew what it meant to have spent a half-century being precisely and distinctly DiMaggio," Cramer writes, "what we required Joe DiMaggio to be. No one knew, as he did, what it cost to live the hero's life. And no one knew, as he did, precisely what it was worth." It seems our nation turned its lonely eyes to a proud, but empty shell; Cramer's superb book helps us understand why we did, and how DiMaggio was able to take all the good will extended him and give so little back. --Jeff Silverman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Listening to Cramer read his biography of Joe DiMaggio feels as though you are sitting in a bar talking baseball with a friend, only to have a grizzled regular overhear your conversation and interject pejoratively, "DiMaggio, eh? I'll tell you about DiMaggio." With a tough, throaty accent and straightforward manner, Cramer sounds as if he's telling the whole tale with his arms crossed over the back of a turned-around chair and a toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth. And for a story about a kid rising from a large Italian family in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf to wealth and fame as a superstar for the New York Yankees, the style fits perfectly. Cramer (What It Takes) balances the Hall of Fame outfielder's well-documented highlights--his 10 World Series titles in 13 major-league seasons, astounding 56-game hitting streak and marriage to Marilyn Monroe--with attributes the public never saw: seedy connections, loose morals and a tight fist. Cramer has ably taken his controversial text and pared it down to provide a strong audio performance that will keep his audience engaged right up until closing time. Simultaneous release with Simon & Schuster hardcover (Forecasts, Oct. 16, 2000).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Touchstone Book
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (October 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684865475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684865478
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I recommend this book to baseball fans everywhere.
Brooklyn Joe
My main objection to the book is the odd, almost jeering style of writing, seemingly meant to mimic the point of view of the character being written about.
Linda Bulger
Richard Ben Cramer has written a very interesting and well-written biography about Joe DiMaggio that is hard to put down.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

124 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book has already stirred up controversy over Cramer's portrayal of DiMaggio and no doubt that controversy will continue for quite some time. I have been a lifelong baseball fan and consider DiMaggio to be among the greatest of those who played the game. He combined natural ability in the five key skill areas (ie hitting, fielding, throwing, base running, and bunting) with a style and grace few others have. Also he was a winner, playing on nine world championship Yankee teams during a 13-year period. No one doubts the on-field achievements of "Jolting Joe." The controversy generated by this book is explained, rather, by Cramer's comments about DiMaggio off the field and especially after he retired.
According to Cramer, DiMaggio was unapproachable to anyone who could not (one way or another) feed his ego, increase his wealth, enhance his lifestyle, or protect his carefully crafted self-image. Throughout most of his life, DiMaggio seemed to ask "What's in it for me?" He not only craved but indeed required treatment normally reserved for heads of state. According to Cramer, he had very few close personal relationships (none with family members) and these were sustained only when in full compliance with the terms and conditions he established. DiMaggio trusted very few people, suspecting that anyone who tried to approach him had ulterior, self-serving motives. There is an old saying about "knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing." DiMaggio knew both.
One critic has suggested that Cramer is "hostile" to DiMaggio. Another critic has described this book as a "hatchet job." Cramer indicates no doubt about DiMaggio's greatness as a baseball player. That was one game he played superbly.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on December 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I caught a glimpse of the great DiMaggio at a charity golf tournament in February of 1998. He was chipping his ball out of the sand onto the 18th green. The tournament was full of celebrities. No one batted an eye when Joe Namath or Bill Russell sauntered by, but the aged DiMaggio swinging a golf club drew everyone's attention. "Hey DiMaggio is playing 18!" His swing was weak, he had barely a year to live, but I was taken by the man, who with great effort, raked his own divot, despite the fact that anyone would have jumped at the duty. That was class. He still had it.
This book is a long history of why he still had it. It's also a history that makes DiMaggio more human. Like all histories, great men have shadow sides that the public learns about after their deaths. DiMaggio is no different.
Many reviewers have opined that Mr. Cramer has tarnished DiMaggio's image, but I think the opposite is true. Cramer has written of a private introverted man who was heartbroken by Marilyn Monroe and never recovered. DiMaggio wanted the security to remain a private man and for that he relied on making money. No shame to make money from one's own name, when one's life achievements make that name so valuable. It's also true that DiMaggio would be fickle with friends. His need for privacy sometimes drove friends away, but that was his right. He might not have been an easy person to know, but that makes him no less heroic to the public at large. He was a model citizen that went to war when his country called. He stayed out of jail, which isn't always an easy proposition for today's athletes. I like DiMaggio even more, now that I have read this well-written biography. I wish MLB was full of guys with his class.
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67 of 88 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When I met Cramer in January 1997, he said "I don't know whether I like [DiMaggio] or not." I was disturbed by that comment for when the biographer refuses to remain objective any research or revelations are suspect since he is prejudiced. This is not to say that icons should not be subject to critical treatments as long as there is balance, so what is written is consequential; not allowing the "flaws" to disproportionately submerge the "strengths" of the individual and vice versa.
I loaned Cramer my research (I was working on a DiMaggio book for the University of Nebraska.) When he told The Sporting News he was going "to blow the lid off" The Legend, I knew he would not be the objective observer he led me to believe. I faxed him to express my concerns and asked for a copy of the book. Cramer called back and snorted: "I don't have to answer to anyone, least of all, you!"
Space does not permit me to address the book's literally dozens of serious errors. Cramer provides only two footnotes, no page notes, and no apparatus of sourcing, aside from the Acknowledgments, making it impossible to verify his reportage.
The men behind Cramer's so-called "hero machine" were not DiMaggio's toadies. "Sport" noted in 12/50 reporters continually "questioned DiMaggio's conduct," citing him for his "childish indifference," and "acting like a spoiled kid." Even pal Ben Epstein in the 8/2/50 New York Mirror wrote DiMaggio "has fallen victim of incredible national worship, and... has 'grown too big for his breeches.'"
He says DiMaggio promised a dying boy he'd tie George Sisler's record and when he learned DiMaggio got the hit, he was cured.
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