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on February 26, 2011
The first indication I was in for a special treat came from reading the recommendations on the back cover from the likes of Roger Kahn, Richard Ben Cramer, Bob Costas, Tom Verducci, and Leigh Montville. Author Kostya Kennedy has certainly enriched the baseball library with his book entitled 56, in relation to Joe DiMaggio's record-breaking hitting streak in that historical year of 1941. Other books have been written about this event, but this book is the one by which all others will be measured.

This is more than a recounting of the games in which the Yankee Clipper swatted his way into the baseball history books. We are also provided with the relationship with his wife, the former Dorothy Arnold who cheered her husband along. When their child was born in October of 1941 things changed between the two partners with a divorce eventually ensuing. The death of Yankee great Lou Gehrig took place on June 2nd during the early stages of the streak, and author Kennedy relates tidbits about Gehrig I hadn't read in numerous other accounts of the Iron Horse. This is also the story of Joe's relationship with brother Dominic, the center fielder of the Boston Red Sox and his superstar teammate Ted Williams who went on to hit an astounding .406 that year.

While DiMaggio may have appeared to be calm and regal as he went about his business during the streak he was churning up inside. The first goal he was to take aim at was George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns who hit in 41 consecutive games in 1922, then came Willie Keeler's streak of 44 consecutive games with the Baltimore Orioles in 1897. DiMaggio also had to deal with the likes of former Yankee pitcher Johnny Babich, who sought revenge on his former team by attempting to walk the streaking DiMaggio rather than let him hit if he could retire him in his first at bat. On his second at bat Joe swung at a bad 3-0 pitch and hit a scalding liner back at Babich for a solid hit to put an end to that strategy.

Author Kennedy takes us back to the year 1941 which belonged to both DiMaggio with his magical 56 and Ted Williams' magical .406. You mention both numbers and any self-respecting baseball fan will immediately know what your are referring to. World War II was raging in Europe, and America would enter in the waning days of that year.

Bits of information are also provided on Willie Keeler that I haven't read in a baseball book since reading The National League Story by the late Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen. Pete Rose's streak is also dealt with along with Rose's post-game career of selling his wares to fans.

Is DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak the ultimate baseball record never to be broken? It certainly added to the mystique of Joe DiMaggio. Will anyone bat .400 again as Teddy Ballgame did in 1941? Both of these events took place in the same year of 1941. DiMaggio was awarded the MVP over Williams, possibly because the Yankees won the pennant. As an aside I might say that Cy Young's 511 victories is the ultimate record never to be broken. A pitcher who won 20 games for 20 years would still be 111 wins short of Cy Young. Certainly with pitchers pitching every 5th day this is highly unlikely to take place.

I did find one minor error in the book. On page 279 the author quotes the words on Lou Gehrig's plaque which was unveiled at Yankee Stadium on July 4th, 1941. The word "former" does not appear on the plaque.

If you are a baseball fan I assure you this book is a gem. Buy it with confidence. I hope author Kostya Kennedy has other historical baseball books to follow. He is an author to keep an eye on.
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on March 31, 2011
In the summer of 1941, the United States was preparing for war. Germany had invaded Russia, and Roosevelt was about to put an embargo on oil shipments to Japan. On the home front, two baseball players were about to etch their names in baseball immortality: Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. By the end of the season, Williams compiled a .406 batting average. No one has come close to .400 since then. DiMaggio had a little streak of his own that summer; he hit safely in 56 straight games. In this fine book, author Kostya Kennedy describes that magical baseball summer and how DiMaggio set a standard which, in all likelihood, will never be equaled.

For two straight months, DiMaggio came to the ballpark, and for two straight months, he hit. Some games, he would get his hit in his first at-bat; others, it would be in his final at-bat. There were questionable events along the way that helped keep the streak alive, such as the official scorer ruling a potential error a hit, and an opposing pitcher's decision to go against his manager and pitch to DiMaggio rather than walk him. As the streak grew in length, Joe was mobbed by fans in every stadium he played in, but none more so than Yankee Stadium. After each game, fans would run onto the field and try to steal his cap or pat him on the back (imagine fans trying to do that today). A song was written about Joe by Les Brown that became a big hit.

Finally, in the sweltering heat of July, the Yankees traveled to Cleveland for a series with the Indians. DiMaggio had extended his streak to 56 games, and was looking for more, but he ran up against two fine pitchers, and Ken Keltner, the Indians' 3rd baseman, made two spectacular defensive plays, taking away a sure hit each time. Just like that, the streak ended. But DiMaggio hit in 16 straight games afterward.

I've been a big baseball fan my entire life, and I've read books about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, but this great book is the best I've read so far. Not only does Kostya Kennedy go into great detail about Joe's streak, he also introduces the reader to Joe's teammates, including Lefty Gomez and Phil Rizzuto. The reader also gets a glimpse into Joe's private life as well. One of the best aspects of the book is Kennedy's "The View From Here" chapters he included. These informative chapters include analysis on DiMaggio's streak as well as Pete Rose's 44-game run in 1978.

I give "56" my highest recommendation. Baseball fans will love this great book.
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on October 5, 2014
Considering how well known Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak is, you'd think that a book written about the subject 70 years later couldn't possibly contain any surprises or new revelations. Kostya Kennedy's book, however, is interesting in a number of unexpected ways.

First is the prose style, which, if you're used to the standard style of baseball history (either a straightforward narrative told in the third person, or an autobiographical history with first-person interjections)... well, "56" is none of those. This book is written, essentially, as a novel. Kennedy retells the streak from numerous points of view, and thus inhabits the heads of many different baseball players and fans. Some of these POV scenes, per the acknowledgments, come from Kennedy's direct interview with the subject. However, as many of the people quoted are long dead, other scenes (such as those from the view of Joe DiMaggio's then-wife Dorothy) are based on second- or third-hand information. I found this a little bit distracting, but I can appreciate what the author was trying to achieve.

The core of book is a retelling of the streak, not quite game-by-game, but definitely in enough detail to give you a real sense of the grind of the 1941 baseball season -- when road-trips were conducted by train, and would often last two to three weeks at a time. Kennedy does a terrific job of describing the feel of old-time stadiums, almost all of which (apart from Fenway Park) are long since defunct. We follow the Yankees from scuffling also-rans in May, generating momentum through the latter part of the Streak, to becoming presumptive pennant-winners by mid-July, when the streak ends one night in Cleveland. Lots of old-time baseball names drift in and out of the narrative: brother Dom DiMaggio, .400-hitter Ted Williams, streak-breaking third-baseman Ken Keltner; and a host of pitchers, each one of whom had their own pet strategy for breaking the Streak, almost none of them successful.

Kennedy does work himself into the narrative, in a series of interludes entitled "The View from Here". He describes modern perspectives on the streak from statisticians and from contemporary ballplayers; a lengthy chapter is dedicated to Pete Rose, showing us baseball's exiled all-time hit king in disturbing closeup (this is the seed material of what later became Kennedy's 2014 book on Rose, the first two chapters of which are included with the "56" e-book as a bonus).

Apart from the baseball, Kennedy works in a significant amount of history. We read up on the gathering storm of World War II in the States, and overhear some iconic speeches by President Roosevelt. There's Lou Gehrig's death in the middle of the '41 season. Well-known figures like Gay Talese and Mario Cuomo are shown as children. Several chapters are given over to a series of presumably fictional teenagers in Jackson Heights, Queens, worshiping Joe from afar as they drift from soda shop to street corner to sandlot ball to neighborhood girls (all of whom are named "Betty"). We sit in with Les Brown (and his Band of Some Renown) as they compose their soon-to-be pop standard song about Joltin' Joe DiMaggio.

While DiMaggio is the hero of the book, Kennedy does take care to present him warts-and-all. There are several references to his infidelity to Dorothy while on those long road-trips, and we get a few "Mad Men" style glimpses into Dorothy's misery as she waits at home, in vain, and pregnant, for Joe to come home and be a husband and father. In the event, he would be neither; the couple divorced within a few short years. Our final visit with DiMaggio is on the night where the streak is broken; he borrows his teammate Phil Rizzuto's last 18 dollars in cash, and spends the night alone in a Cleveland tavern. Heroes get to do petty things like this and it only makes them seem more heroic, which is why Scooter was still telling that story more than 60 years later.

While DiMaggio's streak remains mythic to this day, and has been documented innumerable times before, it's hard to imagine any book handling the streak in so encyclopedic a manner as Kennedy's. So, this one is highly recommended. Warts-and-all.
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As a writer, I generally like to spend a couple of hours reading at night after eight to 10 hours of work a day. Somewhere around 9PM I head to bed to wake up at 5AM the next day.

I am disciplined, hard working...

And I stayed up all of last night and kept reading all of today because Kostya Kennedy's "56" is an outstanding book and one I just couldn't put down. It is like stepping into a time machine, an exciting, thought provoking time machine that took me to a world just before I was born.

This could be the finest sports book I have ever read. Not only does it place all of Joe DiMaggio's streak into historical perspective, a fascinating and well conceived historical perspective but he even gives us a final segment on probability theory and how it relates (or, really, doesn't relate) to what Joe DiMaggio did in 1941.

The final line of the book is memorable.

If you have the least interest in baseball, buy this book right now, today, and stay up all night reading it as I did.
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on July 2, 2013
I've been on somewhat of a baseball/sports book-reading kick for the last several years, and I'd place this in the second echelon. Joe was before my time, but his consecutive hitting streak of 56 games is one of the most formidable of all American sporting records. Many think it will never be broken; well, maybe not, but "never" is a long time.
Kennedy captures the tension and exhilaration of DiMaggio's pursuit and success, but I have two plaints. One is minor. Those of us who love baseball, are known to be more obsessed with statistics than fans of many other sports. Me...not so much; however, I think it will be the rare stat-consumed fan who gets deeply into the section of the book that delves into all of the statistical aspects of Dimaggio's success and the likelihood of others pulling off the same feat. What really dragged this part down for me was the exploration of the many statistically different ways of approaching this and the possibility of others achieving it. Enough, I finally thought, skipped a big chunk and moved on.
The second aspect that wore on me was the amount of padding that was used to lengthen the book. Some historical perspective is always helpful, but be ready for a lot. The development of the effects of WW II, the effects of the draft, the efforts of some players to avoid serving and the stories of those who served either by being drafted or volunteering interested me. Other extensive bird-walking, for example, great detail of Joe's association with the west and east coast neighborhood acquaintanceships he formed, while initially of interest, got very long and boring, perhaps like this review may be starting to do.
So, finally, Kennedy never states that Joe was of somewhat limited intellect, but gives plenty of examples that might lead you to that conclusion. He also was not very social, could be insensitive, was somewhat of a womanizer and perhaps not well-equipped to deal with the fame thrust upon him that dominated the media as the hitting streak approached its finale. He was, however, a consummate athlete blessed with great natural gifts, dedicated to his craft and worthy of the esteem attained because of this feat and his overall baseball record attained.
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on July 9, 2013
What a wonderful book.

I'm a baseball fan. But you don't HAVE to be a baseball fan to enjoy this magical book.

Joe DiMaggio was my boyhood idol. I still think it's miraculous that I got to meet him 3 times. Even got to help coach him in 1982, as he prepared to record a radio commercial for "Mr. Coffee." Can't say I knew him. But my sense of his nature, coupled with everything I'd read about him, was captured beautifully by Kostya Kennedy in this book.

Even though the book traces the last "unbreakable" record in sports, I'd be doing it a disservice if I called it a "baseball book." I say that because Kennedy takes us back to the Spring and Summer of 1941 in a way that puts "the streak" in the context of the times . . . World War II approaching . . . the social climate, etc.

What a writer and what a book! I didn't want this book to end.

P.S. If there's one element of the book I found a bit too lengthy, it's the exploration of the mathematical probability (and experts' analyses of that probability) of DiMaggio . . . or any player . . . getting hits in 56 consecutive games. But most of that is in one chapter, near the end of the book. It's an easy chapter to skim if, like me, you're less interested in the "technical" exploration of the hitting streak than in the human "side."

This is not a "knock" and doesn't remotely mitigate my giving the book a 5-star rating.

Can't wait for Kostya Kennedy's next book!
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on August 15, 2014
GREAT book. DiMaggio was a little before my time, but as a baseball fan, I know of the importance of the number 56.

This was a well researched book on DiMaggio in 1941, the year of the streak. Learned a lot about DiMaggio, and about baseball in general. Reading this book gave me even more of an appreciation for how difficult 56 is. Today, if your hitting streak gets into double digits, writers start talking about it. Everyone know about a streak of 20 or more, and even non-baseball people hear of streaks getting to 30 games. But 56?

Three other numbers come out in this book, all of them amazing. I will let you read the book to figure out what they mean. The numbers are: 13. 61. 0.406. Two out of the three are in 1941, the year of the streak. And the number '61' is not for or about Maris. It's another unbelievable stat in baseball history.
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on December 3, 2013
Whether you "like" or "love" this book will greatly depend on whether you agree with the author's (and editor's) approach. Much of the text considers the environment and era during which DiMaggio had his 56 game hitting streak, as well as the common men and women who were captivated by the streak as it happened. A little of this stuff goes a long way, IMHO, and I felt that Kennedy spent too much time on these digressions and that the book could have been a good 50 pages shorter if he had left much of it out. Others (including the author, obviously) might feel differently and would enjoy these slices of life.

In any case, I purchased this book as a Kindle special offer, so for the $1.99 (or whatever I paid for it) I thought it was a good read, although I doubt it will be considered classic, must-read book on baseball. I particularly liked the interstitial sections devoted to Pete Rose's streak in the early 1980s and the epilogue that considers the statistical probabilities of DiMaggio's streak -- these alone might be worth the price I paid for the book.
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on May 29, 2014
I hate the Yankees. I love Baseball. This book was by far the best sports book i've ever read. Kostya Kennedy does a fantastic job painting a picture of Joltin' Joe as we knew him, and as we didn't know him. I was reading this book at the same time was reading "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. I have to say, it was amazing to see how the war and his 56-game streak were so important in their own ways. This is (besides Cy Young's 511 Wins) the greatest feat in baseball history and Kennedy goes into great detail to bring us to that place, inside Joe's clubhouse, sometimes inside his head, to show us just how much luck and talent went into this. I would also recommend the Pete Rose book by Kennedy….He's now one of my favorite writers. He brings DiMaggio alive in his account of that great summer of 1941.
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on April 25, 2011
Having just finished reading Kostya Kennedy's well researched book 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic number in Sports, I had to go right to my computer and write a review. Few who write would spend the time to attend to details like Mr. Kennedy. The book gives recollections of almost every one of the hits during the 56 game streak, but in between it gives excerpts of what is going on in the world and in a beautiful way ties together the events of 1941. It is almost as much a history book as it is a baseball book. I found it interesting how author Kennedy described details of a time at bat whereby Jolten Joe barely got by a game with a hit. For example a ball that took a bad hop as White Sox shortstop Luke Appling tried to field it and was ruled a base hit has to be an intersting part of baseball lore.

If you are the type of person who likes the gritty details of a sports accomplishment, then this book is for you. It also gives the reader a good picture of what the make-up of Joe DiMaggio was and how he handled the pressure of the streak. The researched details in the book should leave little doubt as to the author's dedication to bring out all the things that happened to DiMaggio during this exciting time. There is little doubt that the record will never be broken and Kostay Kennedy can be so proud that he brings to the reading public, for once and for all, the smallest of details of such an outstanding athletic accomplishment.
Norman Jones, Ed.D. author of Growing Up in Indiana: The Culture and Hoosier Hysteria Revisited and Main St. vs. Wall St.: Wake-up Calls for America's Leaders.
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