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Bang the Drum Slowly (Second Edition) Paperback – December 1, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sure, Harris's most acclaimed novel, the second of his Henry Wiggen books, centers around a pair of ballplayers for the fictionally fabled New York Mammoths--the novel's narrator, pitcher Wiggen, and Bruce Pearson, his tag-along catcher and best friend. And sure, on one level, it's the conventional tale of a disparate dugout population cohering over the course of a season and marching ineluctably toward the World Series. But convention, like a 55-foot curveball, ends there and then scoots off in its own unpredictable direction. Harris's story--funny, bittersweet, and affecting--is, in the end, a haunting meditation on life, death, friendship, and loyalty. That it's set against the backdrop of the Major Leagues makes it a baseball novel. That it's a brilliant study of human nature, passionately felt and beautifully crafted, makes it enduring literature. --Jeff Silverman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Bang the Drum Slowly makes wonderful reading—whether one hates baseball or loves it. . . . It is awfully funny in parts, and laughter is rare enough on anybody’s bookshelf.”—New York Times
(New York Times)

“What makes Bang the Drum Slowly unique . . . is author Harris’s mastery of his offbeat scene. . . . The talk is natural, larded with casual humor, and earthiness. . . . Harris has measured [his characters] with his heart as well as his eye and ear.”—Time

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; 2nd Revised ed. edition (December 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080327338X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803273382
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Randy Keehn VINE VOICE on August 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book some years back on a whim. Once I read it, it became one of my all time favorites. It is a heartwarming story about friendship and the extent to which one man will go to help another. Mind you, this isn't a story about one man laying down his life for another. That sort of heroism belongs in a different class altogether. Fortunately, most of us don't find ourselves in those situations. However, all of us, in one way or another, will likely find ourselves in a situation similar to the one that Henry Wiggen finds himself in. Henry's teammate, Bruce Pearson, is a borderline major league catcher who discovers, over the winter, that he has a terminal disease. Henry, an all-star major league pitcher, is the only non-family member who knows this secret. The relationship between Henry and Bruce is not one of best friends. The relationship is based more on the fact that Henry has sold Bruce a life insurance policy (which is what the pitcher does in the off-season). As such, Bruce, somewhat limited in intelligence, puts a special sort of trust in Henry. Although it would be easy to dismiss this trust as misguided, Henry takes the full responsibility for it and puts his own career on the line in doing so. In fact, he puts both careers on the line for his teammate and does it all so that Bruce's last year on Earth is a meaningful one. See how the little secret becomes a rallying cry for an under-achieving team. The ending is poignant in many ways but our hero is there to the end.
Unless you've got ice water in your veins, this book will touch you deeply. As you read it, ask yourself, "Would I have done the same thing?" The honest answer for most of us, unfortunately, is no.
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Format: Paperback
I first read Bang the Drum Slowly as a high school student and it stayed on my mind for several days after I finished it. In fact, it had such an impact on the way that I saw life that I was more than a little reluctant to read it again, fearing that my fond memories of the book would be spoiled. That kind of thing has happened to me several times in the past, but not this time. Bang the Drum Slowly is still the great book that I experienced the first time around.

In the era before free agency rules made millionaires out of very mediocre baseball players, even all-star left-handed pitchers had to find work in the off season. Henry Wiggin, star lefthander for what was probably the best team in baseball during the early 1950s, the New York Mammoths, was no exception. Henry took to selling life insurance and annuities to his fellow ball players and he became quite good at his sales job. One of Henry's customers was Bruce Pearson, a third-string Mammoth catcher who bought an insurance policy covering his life only to later discover that he was dying of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a disease that was incurable in the 1950s.

Bang the Drum Slowly at its base is a realistic baseball novel told in the words (and with the spelling skills) of a small town boy born during the Depression who had the physical skills to become a major league baseball pitcher. It is an honest look at what goes on off the field and in the clubhouse when athletes spend more time on the road, and with each other, than they spend with their wives and children. There are racial tensions, drinking problems, womanizing and personality clashes that have to be dealt with by management, a baseball management generally interested only in the club's bottom line.
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Format: Paperback
This book was reccomended to me by someone I work with, and I was hesitant to give it a try because I am not much of a sports fan, so a book largely about baseball seemed like it would be very painful. But I am very glad that I gave it a shot because this book is actually very good. It's subject manner is on the serious side (the longtime friend and teammate of a ball player discovers he is dying) but the narration is light and easy, keeping it from getting too dense and dramatic. The style is unique and makes for a pleasant, laid back read. The characters are well drawn and effecting, you get a very good sense of them all and it is impossible not to care about them. As someone who as I said is not a sports fan I can assure you that it is very readable even if you are not also. I will definitely be giving the author's other books in the series a try (I only wish that I had started with 'The Southpaw', which is the first in the series).
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This book is one of a handful of great American sports novels. And like most great sports novels its not really about sports at all. On the surface the book tells the story of pitcher Henry Wiggin of the New York Mammoths baseball team and a single season in the mid-1950s. But below the surface its the story of Wiggins' friendship with a third string catcher named Bruce Pearson, who is dying of Hodgkin's disease. The story is refreshingly not overly sentimental which it could easily be given the subject matter. Rest assured, the book is full of home runs, stolen bases, solid pitching and locker room antics, but as the Mammoths move late into the summer and the pennant race heats up, the reader knows that the book is really about friendship and the unfairness of life.

Harris uses a somewhat strange first person vernacular to tell the story, but after the first couple of pages it seems as if Henry Wiggin is talking directly to you over a beer or a cup of coffee, telling you about that summer of baseball and what happened to his friend, Bruce. I found the technique enormously effective. I also really enjoyed some of Wiggin's observations about life and the unanswered questions he raises about the human condition. (If we all know we're going to die, why don't we go out and live it up more?)

Harris wrote this novel back in the 1950s and it clearly demonstrates how the status of professional athletes and sports in general have changed in the last half century. As someone who has written about sports in the fifties (HOOP CRAZY: COLLEGE BASKETBALL IN THE 1950S), I found this book to be something of a historical document as well as a terrific novel. All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sports fiction or anyone who liks well written novels in general.
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