If you're looking for an exhaustive biography of Gehrig, one of the best to ever grace a diamond, look no further. Eig has written a wonderful book that gives great insight into not only Gehrig the player, but also Gehrig the man.
It's obvious from the discussion of his upbringing that Gehrig was not a "typical" Yankee star, one who would enjoy the bright lights and fame. As a child, and continuing into his adult life, he was a shy, modest person who wanted only to work hard and do his best. His relationship, or lack thereof, with fellow superstar Babe Ruth, is given a lot of coverage, and is one of the more interesting aspects of the book. Given Gehrig's background and social anxieties, it's not really surprising that he and Ruth (along with other teammates) never seemed to mesh.
While the coverage given to his seasons with the Yankees is comprehensive, it's the anecdotes and off-the-field stuff that really add to the existing knowledge we have of Gehrig. And even when we know towards the end of the book exactly what's going to happen, Eig still manages to present the onset of his illness and eventual death dramatically, without simply playing on emotions. I was surprised to learn that his ALS had begun its onset in '38, and not a year later when he was forced to call it quits.
Eig presents Gehrig well, without romanticizing him or turning his book into a hagiography. While I think any baseball fan will love this book, I don't think being a fan of the sport is a prerequisite to enjoyment. This is a great biography of a genuinely good man, one who always seemed unsure about being in the spotlight. Highly recommended.
on April 5, 2005
I have read other previous biographies on Lou Gehrig such as Ray Robinson's effort entitled "Iron Horse" and Frank Graham's book entitled "Lou Gehrig: A Quiet Hero". Both books are well done, but Jonathan Eig's book is the most in-depth effort on Gehrig to date. Gehrig had an over-bearing and protective mother and a passive insecure father. While Lou had great admiration and respect for his mother, her influence probably contributed to Lou's insecurities regarding himself. Lou's mother viewed his wife as a threat to her control over her son, and both mother and mother-in-law were in constant conflict over the son and husband. Even after Lou's death the wrangling continued over Lou's estate. The author provides ample coverage of Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day on July 4, 1939, when Gehrig delivered his Gettysburg Address speech at Yankee Stadium between games of a doubleheader between the Yankees and the Washington Senators. Significant coverage is also provided on ALS, the disease that now carries Gehrig's name. Gehrig always expressed his appreciation for the care he received at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and exchanged letters with physicians in charge of his care. He always looked for miniscule signs that may indicate the disease wasn't getting any worse, but by the spring of 1941 he knew it was just a matter of time before the inevitable took place. This book is also a rare treat in that it isn't laced with profanity. If you have a young reader around ten years old who is reading at an advanced level, feel free to give them this book as a gift. It will be one that will be appreciated for years to come.
P.S.--I don't know why Amazon lists this as from an "Audio CD." This review is from the hardcover book.
on April 9, 2006
In his brief 37 years, Lou Gehrig couldn't catch a break. Incredibly shy, he never cashed in on his movie-star looks. He adored his mother, but she sabotaged the few relationships he had enough courage to persue. When he finally did marry, the two women in his life quarreled endlessly, a rift that would remain even after his death. As a ball player, Gehrig was too insecure to seek the salary he deserved, always fearing that his next paycheck might be his last. When he became a star, his personality and accomplishments were overshadowed by the larger-than-life presence of Babe Ruth, and after the Babe retired, it was a young Joe DiMaggio who caught the public's fancy. Struck by a fast-moving fatal illness, the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Day on July 4, 1939, but not a single media outlet recorded the entirely of his famous farewell speech. And when death came, two years later, even the birth date on his tombstone was wrong.
As a fellow journalist who routinely deals with rigorous fact-checking, I congratulate Jonathan Eig on one of the most meticulously researched -- and thoroughly sourced -- sports biographies I've come across. I am on my third reading, and each time I soak up something new from every chapter. "Luckiest Man" is a smooth-flowing, well-organized masterpiece that unearths precious new details about this admired, enigmatic, and intensely private figure.
Unlike the gushing Gehrig biographies of yesteryear, Eig goes beyond baseball, the statistics, and myth of the the Iron Horse, or Biscuit Pants as his teammates sometimes called him, to reveal an individual of tremendous character, but entirely human. Gehrig was a misfit. In an era when ballplayers were swashbuckling tough guys, "Columbia Lou" was a sensitive college boy. While his teammates were carousing, Gehrig's joy was to indulge in simple pleasures -- going to the movies, fishing on Long Island Sound aboard his little row boat, and returning home after a game to eat dinner with his parents. He was a loner who smoked too much and hated to part with a buck. When the Yankees lost or he failed in the clutch, he sulked, even cried.
Eig's year-by-year chronicle of Gehrig's maturation is fascinating. But what makes this book truly remarkable is the treasure trove of largely unknown correspondence the author has tracked down. It reminds us that Gehrig's real greatness had little to do with home runs and runs batted in. In a series of deeply personal letters he wrote to his wife, Eleanor, and the doctors who treated him in the final two years of his life, we get to peak inside the heart and mind of a man who knew he was going to die, yet one who showed no bitterness or anger -- only hope and concern for those around him.
Through his own words, we learn how ALS sapped Gehrig of his strength day by day, the treatments he sought, his unflinching optimism, the friendships he made, and how he tried to live a normal life as his body withered away.
For all of its sadness, "Luckiest Man" is an uplifting story of a role model for the ages. Jonathan Eig has given us a gift to cherish.
on March 26, 2005
I'm not as avid a sports fan as many of my friends, and I haven't read many sports bios. This book, though, surpasses the usual expectations for sports books. Reading it is like reading a vivid fictional book with many fascinating characters who seem bigger than life yet with imperfections and flaws, too.
I'm sure any baseball/Yankees fan who like to read would get a lot out of this book. Anyone who is curious about Lou Gehrig should obviously read it. But its appeal for me went beyond baseball because it just tells the story of a humble and great man who lived a short, brave life and struggled with a terrible illness he could not understand. These are all powerful themes in and of themselves, but Eig clearly uses the English language to make Gehrig's story even more inviting. I kept reading waiting to get to a dull sentence or a cliche, but did not...it's just page after page of lean, tight writing and colorful detail, like a really good New York Times feature story.
Eig tells an old story but in so many ways it is timely. It's pretty interesting to read about Gehrig and his baseball friends who played for the love of the game in much simpler times, for money that may have been big in their time but not hugely extravagant, the way sports contracts are today. They didn't complain about fans or the media. Baseball was starting to be a business, yes, but not Big Business. The players didn't take steroids or say that anything about their behavior was justified because they were just "entertainers." They were honest and hard-working athletes. They signed autographs and felt flattered to do it. It's just so refreshing to learn about how baseball used to be.
The final parts of the book, about his ALS, are grim and tragic but tell so much about the strength of Gehrig, and the author found a lot of material (like letters to Gehrig's doctor, talking about the disease). It's all fascinating, and makes you understand ALS and feel for its victims.
To sum up, I'm glad I bought this and think you would not be sorry to read it if you are excited by baseball, enjoy solid biographies, the history of the 1920s-1930s, books about heroic fights against illness, or if you just like colorful-but-true writing that's not at all difficult to read.
on April 26, 2005
This is an amazing book. Eig has done a ton of research (check out the list of primary sources in the back!), and lets you see Gehrig as a man, not just through his stats as a baseball player. After reading this book, I really felt like I had some insight into Lou Gehrig's personality, his upbringing, his motivation, and especially his courage as he faced a slow death from ALS. By seeing Gehrig as a complete person, including his faults, I believe Gehrig becomes even more of a hero.
This book is very well written and could be enjoyed by baseball historians, casual fans, and those who might only know the name Lou Gehrig. I'm proud to have this book on my shelf next to great baseball writers like Lawrence Ritter, Robert Creamer, and Harold Seymour.
on April 1, 2005
Jonathan Eig does a wonderful job painting a human portrait of Lou Gehrig and evoking an earlier time. His rendering of Gehrig isn't designed to mythologize the man; it offers a more complete picture than that. Still, you can't help but gain greater respect and admiration for The Iron Horse.
This book -- like Tom Stanton's "Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America" -- is a welcome diversion from baseball's current steroids scandal. Along with "Three Nights in August," these three rate as my favorites this baseball season.
I've never read a Lou Gehrig biography before, Ray Robinson's book having been long out of print for most of my adulthood. I'm not sure how well Jonathan Eig's "Luckiest Man" will be regarded by future generations, but it does serve as an excellent early-21st-century look at one of baseball's great icons. Its well-researched year-by-year account reminded me somewhat of Leigh Montville's look at Ted Williams, or Mark Kriegel's recent Joe Namath bio -- albeit with fewer scandalous revelations.
Perhaps Lou Gehrig's reputation did need a little bit of restoration. The term "Lou Gehrig's disease" has become a laugh-out-loud punchline on recent episodes of "Family Guy" and "The Sopranos". His consecutive games streak has long since been eclipsed by Cal Ripken, and his signature sentence -- "Today, I consider the luckiest man on the face of the Earth" -- has been so misused (showing up most out of place in Don Sutton's Hall of Fame acceptance speech) that it still comes as a jolt to remember that Gehrig was dying when he said it.
Far from a trashy expose, "Luckiest Man" celebrates Gehrig's ballfield heroics and personal integrity, while showing how Gehrig was a late bloomer in thrall to his mother who had only just started to come out of shell when tragedy struck. The years fly by and the accomplishments pile up, while Eig methodically works through the evolution of Gehrig's subservient relationships with his mother, Babe Ruth, and finally, his future wife.
The descriptions of New York City during Gehrig's youth are quite evocative. Manhattan was a much larger place back then, with the cultural divide between the snooty Upper East Side of Jacob Ruppert, and the Yorkville of Gehrig's impoverished youth being highlighted here. Such differences in today's Manhattan are belied by the fact that you can walk from one place to the other in less than ten minutes.
Similarly compelling is Eig's breakdown of how ALS struck Gehrig stage by stage over the final three years of his life. These symptoms are supported by newspaper clippings from the 1938 baseball season, and then by quotes from correspondence Gehrig traded with his Mayo Clinic doctors. This is remarkable research, although with a somewhat morbid end result as we see Gehrig dying by inches. Eig does have the decency at least to pull the cameras back a little bit and allow Gehrig's death to occur in shadow.
On a smaller note, Eig also reminds us frequently of Gehrig's child-of-immigrants Bronx accent, which was captured not at all by Gary Cooper in the dated film "Pride of the Yankees". Listen especially to how each man pronounces the word "Earth". This is certainly the most authentic account of Lou Gehrig we're likely to see, either in print or on film.
on March 22, 2005
This is a wonderful, well-written book. The amount of research and attention to detail put into this book is easy to see. Not just research about Lou Gehrig's life and career, but about the disease that now bears his name--ALS. When I read about the changes in Lou Gehrig's body I could see them happening as they did in my father who also suffered from ALS.
More importantly, however, Lou Gehrig stopped being baseball statistics and the man with the disease--he became a person.
Lou was brought up in the early 1900's-1910's in the (then)German immigrant section of Yorkville-NYC. His father appears as a ne'er do well, his mother a hard worker doing about anything to keep her family going. In fact, many of Lou's siblings died of childhood diseases now hardly ever killers. So Lou had more than the usual obstacles to overcome. Fortunately, Lou's mom got a job working as a housekeeper at a Columbia fraternity, which helped Lou into the Columbia extension school program. Definitely not a great scholar, Lou was a record smashing player at Columbia, at first shunned by scouts because he had a tough time hitting a curve ball, a problem Lou worked on, and eliminated. Shy and introspective,somewhat of a mama's boy, the portrayal in THE MOVIE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES seems very close to the mark! When Wally Pipp, a very formidible Yanks 1st Baseman, was injured, it seemed clear as day that Lou would take over for a long time, 2130 games to be exact! The "Quiet Man" of the great Yank teams of the 1920's and 1930's proved to be the perfect man for the job, a nice foil to the wild and crazy Babe Ruth! Lou's long career and life are beautifully done, through his famous LUCKIEST MAN ALIVE speech, and his sad and slow death of Lou Gehrigs Disease.A perfect biography, and with a photo of an upcoming singer/actor/autograph seeker named Frank Sinatra with Lou from the 1939 World Series. Needless to say, how many Pro Athletes today have the character of LOU GEHRIG!
on May 19, 2005
Reading this book made me wonder, "Are there any men of this caliber of character in MLB today?" My immediate answer would be, "No." Who in today's big leagues would feel almost embarassed to get a raise? Who would play for such a quiet love of the game?
A ballplayer from the 80s, Ryne Sandberg, does come to mind. Of course, he was nowhere the player of Gehrig (who is?), but he always seemed like a gentleman who gave it his all.
God Bless Lou Gehrig and all he stood for. Read this book if you want to be inspired by a genuine American role model and hero.