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The Devil's Snake Curve: A Fan's Notes From Left Field Paperback – April 15, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Like many, a less-than-gifted athlete ­growing up, Ostergaard, a native of Kansas City, became a baseball (and Royals) fan and has now written this anecdotal and idiosyncratic once-over on the sport. Although containing much that has appeared in sundry baseball books before, it also offers many rare and entertaining tidbits, such as Ted Williams being recruited to shoot bothersome pigeons in Fenway Park or the fact that midcentury Yankee owner Del Webb’s construction company built the camps that housed Japanese interns during WWII. Ostergaard obsessively links not only the history of the pastime but a great deal more to management and ballplayers’ attitudes regarding facial hair. Readers who, like the author, see baseball as a metaphor for, well, nearly everything, and who deem the Yankees as not only representative of the misdistribution of wealth in America but also connected to such events as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War will love this book. Those who merely ­enjoy baseball as baseball may still find plenty to like in Ostergaard’s oddball take on the sport. --Mark Levine

Review


"The Devil's Snake Curve will receive a particularly warm welcome from those who love the game but resist easy analogies comparing its slow, idiosyncratic progress to the slow idiosyncratic progress of the American experiment. Its young author, Josh Ostergaard, emerges from an ironic generation that tends to regard hero worship as faintly ridiculous, meaning that individual legends from any given era are less interesting to him than whatever social, cultural, or political forces might have combined to prop those legends up." New York Times

"Expansive and inventive... a challenging reconsideration of a game that used to be called the national pastime." Star Tribune

“[Hi]ghly entertaining and always enlightening . . . [Ostergaard] moves easily from the relationship between baseball and political thinking shared during the early 1960s by fierce enemies Fidel Castro and Allen Dulles, to the ways baseball managers and owners attempted to enforce rules about hair length and mustaches at the same time that those rules were being rejected in American culture in general.” Publishers Weekly

“Smart, funny and wholly unique. Josh Ostergaard creates a collage of baseball's complications, tracing its shimmering lore and harsh realities. He gives us a game that is never static, never simple, but is worth knowing. In his hands, the familiar feels new again.” —Lucas W. Mann, author of Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere

“I thought I wasn’t interested in baseball until I read this book. It’s like a box of eclectic baseball cards about our country and our culture – curious, compelling, and disturbing in turn.” —Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man’s Land

"In a sports publishing season with few books about the scandal side of, say, NFL violence, NCAA hypocrisy, or drug use, there is a little book with a social conscience. Josh Ostergaard (who now works for Graywolf Press) has written The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes from Left Field, a book of essays and 'miscellany.'" Publishers Weekly, Included in "PW's Top 10: Sports"

"Readers who, like the author, see baseball as a metaphor for, well, nearly everything, and who deem the Yankees as not only representative of the misdistribution of wealth in America but also connected to such events as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War will love this book. Those who merely enjoy baseball as baseball, even those who root for his despised Yankees, may still find plenty to like in Ostergaard's oddball take on the sport." Booklist

"One of the most fascinating books ever written about baseball."The Cultural Weekly

“This graceful, quietly humorous and thought-provoking collection of anecdotes probes deeply into the meaning behind each parcel of information to capture what baseball was in the days before what baseball is now.” MinnPost

"A former urban anthropologist, Ostergaard loves baseball and the stories that "lie on the game's outer edges," the "murmurs between innings" where baseball intersects with -- well, just about everything in American life." Pioneer Press

“Funny, off the beaten path, and fun to read, The Devil’s Snake Curve is the perfect book for anyone who likes their baseball a little bit different, enjoys irreverent humor, or really hate the Yankees.” Boston Red Thoughts

"One of baseball’s charms for writers is as a broad canvas for the expression of personal piques, politics, and flights of imagination. Following the example of The Empire Strikes Out by Robert Elias, lefty Chicago urban anthropologist Josh Ostergaard proffers a revisionist historical commentary on baseball in The Devil’s Snake Curve. . ." The Daily Beast

"Ostergaard is an incisive, intelligent writer . . . At best, the book is a brilliant exercise in sequence and transition, with dozens of short sections carefully laid out in order to maximize inference and suggestion.” —The Corresponder

“The Devil’s Snake Curve is a unique baseball book, one that cleverly explores the history of the sport through cultural and political lenses.”—Largehearted Boy

“This book is like a day at the ballpark. Histories are the murmurs between innings. They are the pitches that make up a game. They careen off the wall and roll into dark corners. The game is played in fragments. Meanings accrue. Memories interrupt history.”—The Joy of Sox

"Even in the lengthy tradition of baseball literature, The Devil's Snake Curve defies easy comparison. . . There are a few real discoveries for even a devoted baseball history dweeb in The Devil’s Snake Curve."The Classical

"This anecdotal history of baseball is a gem. Musings—both personal and historical—are intertwined with snippets of Americana, dashes of history, and cultural observations by an urban anthropologist. Flip through the book and randomly read about pissing in the Wrigley Field troughs, Allan Dulles' CIA coups, bubble gum and tobacco rituals, the politics of facial hair, and both religious and ideological attempts to co-opt sport. Or better yet, read it again it the way the author intended to see the connections between Baseball and Machines, Militarism, the Animal World, Nationalism and the Corporatocracy." —Annie Bloom Books

The Devil’s Snake Curve. . . is unique, insightful, humorous and worth reading. It is a kind of radical and high subjective view of the national pastime, a kind of “Fargo” of baseball books." Epoch Times

“Ostergaard seamlessly meshes baseball with pop culture and politics, both in the U.S. and around the world.” Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf

"This collection of news reports, anecdotes, statistics and personal reminiscences turns an eclectic history of baseball into a backdrop for American political history. "Shelf Awareness

“Out of the many fragments of baseball history collected in The Devil’s Snake Curve, Josh Ostergaard has assembled a unique take on baseball’s complicated symbolism. Full of mustaches, advertisements, and more than a few reasons to hate the Yankees, it’s a story about how baseball became intertwined with our ideas about things like patriotism, civility, and masculinity. Ostergaard’s interpretation of baseball’s history is one I was increasingly drawn into, and while he doesn’t pretend to be objective, he leaves room for readers to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions. It is as thought provoking as it is entertaining.” —Jacob Harksen, Elliot Bay Books

“An insightful, humorous social commentary on our nation. Drawing connections between the sport and capitalism, faith, and colonialism (just to name a few), Ostergaard draws the reader into his passionate perspective, and leaves us reflecting on the state of our country.”—City Pages

”Ostergaard aligns baseball and history so that wonderful coincidences arise."—Fiction Advocate

“[The Devil’s Snake Curve] scorches baseball’s corporate (i.e., greedy) side and its pen- chant for wrapping itself in the flag, which includes American-style imperial- ism, the kind that blithely, almost unconsciously, styles baseball as redemptive force, good for the world’s untamed and unwashed.”NINE

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press (April 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566893453
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566893459
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #869,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Josh Ostergaard holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota and an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has been an urban anthropologist at the Field Museum and now works at Graywolf Press.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Barry Sparks VINE VOICE on April 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
The subtitle of "The Devil's Snake Curve" is "A Fan's Notes from Left Field." After reading the book, I would change the subtitle to "A Fan's Notes from Deep Left Field." Author Josh Ostergaard takes a non-traditional approach to baseball history, but for me, it's a swing and a miss.

Ostergaard writes that "one of the underlying subjects of the book is the ways baseball has been represented in the United States and how these representations can be understood in the context of American history." He admits that his book contains "eccentric interpretations."

The book contains 225 entries, most of which are a couple paragraphs. The longest entries are five pages. The entries are divided into five categories: Origins, Machines, War, Animals and Nationalism.

Entries run the gamut of baseball history from 1885 to the present. Ostergaard includes stories ranging from preacher/baseball player Billy Sunday to Billy Martin. The author also mixes in his personal baseball experiences. Although Ostergaard says he dislikes the Yankees (having grown up a Kansas City Royals fan), he seems obsessed with them as they dominate the entries. He also seems obsessed by hair. Way too many entries about hair. Given his proclivity for the Yankees and hair, I'm surprised he didn't have more entries about Thurman Munson.

While Ostergaard's eccentric interpretations didn't resonate with me, several of his observations, however, were insightful. Here are several:

"The experiences my family and I had together through baseball were a magical part of my life. But as an adult, they turn my stomach sour. The old way of seeing feels saccharine, though I realize it's more my feeling than hard fact.
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I have collected and owned a great many baseball books over my lifetime and count myself as a dedicated fan of the game as well as the legend and lore that accompanies it. Some of those pieces of legend and lore are baseball classics and bear repeating while a great many of them lose traction after a few tellings. Mr. Ostergaard has chosen the ones that he feels bear repeating and has interspersed them with a few poignant moments of his own life in baseball both as a fan (of the often hapless KC Royals) and as a less than talented young player. For my money, the stories that Mr. Ostergaard has chosen are hit and miss, but remember, this is a subjective thing. I skimmed and skipped a great part of this book simply because so much of it is old news to me, not re-told in a particularly compelling fashion. It is entirely possible that if one were a relative newcomer to the genre of baseball history and legend this would be an entertaining read from cover to cover.
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Josh Ostergaard has written a sweet little baseball book. He is non-traditional in his approach, including snippets from baseball's history and lore, his personal relationship with the game, and the social context of baseball in American life. His politics get a little heavy handed at the end and may be a turn off to those of a conservative bent. I disagree with some of his cynicism regarding the game. This was a well written summer read.
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By cassandra on July 10, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
for the first time, i met an author who sees (loves) baseball as i do. baseball is a mirror of our culture, our ethics and class consciousness. this is a novel that i will re-read again and again. the fact that the author feels the same as i about the ny yankees made this a pleasre to read. the novel can be read on many levels. it is a philosophical, ahistorical, funny novel. it is non-linear. go with the flow and you will have the joy of reading a wonderful book.
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Have only scanned through a number of chapters but it's well-written and seems to stay interesting. You better be a baseball fan, otherwise you'd be entirely lost!
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