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Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by [Thorn, John]
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Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"It is said in folklore circles that when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalize what would otherwise be baffling," writes noted baseball historian Thorn (Total Baseball). "Such has been the case with baseball." Thorn strives to set the record straight. Among his innumerable revelations are that gambling actually legitimized the game, and that baseball's presence in America dates back to at least 1791 in Pittsfield, Mass. Long believed to be the founding fathers of baseball, Alexander Joy Cartwright and Abner Doubleday were the tools of "those who wanted to establish baseball as the product of an identifiable spark of American ingenuity." Thorn has done an admirable job in uncovering the truths and fossils of baseball's foggy prehistoric era, but the book is so dense with key figures and historical minutiae (the book spans from ancient Egypt to the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939) that it becomes plodding. With the help of an index and a highlighter, baseball lovers will savor the book as reference material. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Mar.)
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"No one knows baseball history as well as John Thorn or writes about it more ably. And there is no one better suited to record--with affection, amusement and sometimes hilarity--the chicanery, misrepresentation and downright lies that have obfuscated the fascinating story of the origins and development of our national game."

--Robert W. Creamer, Author of "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life "and "Stengel: His Life and Times"

"What a garden of delight! John Thorn takes us through the tangled history of the game's origins with great good humor and flair. He accepts nothing on face value, but gives all sides their due. A pleasure for fans, but also for anyone with an interest in history and myth."

--Kevin Baker, Author of "Strivers Row"

"With elegance, wit and precision, John Thorn traces the lineage of baseball, a melting pot of cultures and diversions that became quintessentially American. "Baseball in the Garden of Eden" is a must read for anyone who claims to know the game."

--Jane Leavy, Author of "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and The End of America's Childhood "and "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy"

"Baseball's creation myth--Abner Doubleday in a Cooperstown pasture in 1839--has the merit of being enchanting but the defect of being false in every particular. Now comes another of John Thorn's many contributions to our understanding of baseball, proof that the game is even older and more interesting than most fans know."

--George F. Will, Author of "Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball"

"No one, absolutely no one, knows more about the history of our national pastime than John Thorn, and this new book ought to settle once and for all many of the questions fans have about baseball's origins. Superb."

--Ken Burns

"John Thorn's "Baseball in the Garden of Eden" reveals a secret history of the early game that is more fantastical (and funny) than any concocted story."

--Jim Bouton, Author of "Ball Four"

"The One True Game's old creation myths are nowhere near as interesting and as much fun as the truths that Thorn digs up about the conspiracies, vices, and raucous behavior of baseball's earliest innings."

--Robert Lipsyte, author of "An Accidental Sportswriter"

"No sport clings to its myths like baseball, which means it takes a baseball historian of the first rank like John Thorn to turn those myths upside down and inside out. "Baseball in the Garden of Eden "offers enlightenment for every fan. It is also a joy to read."

--Michael Shapiro, Author of "Bottom of the Ninth" and "The Last Good Season"

"If you love history or baseball, you will enjoy Thorn's impeccably researched tome; if you love both, you will be mesmerized."

--Dave Sheinin, "The Washington Post


"An invaluable, enduring and unique history of the early game and how it swiftly changed, in some ways for the worse, and yet survived and thrived."

--David Nemec, Author of "The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Baseball"

Product Details

  • File Size: 5223 KB
  • Print Length: 389 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Publication Date: March 15, 2011
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0043RSJ7M
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,628 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Perhaps the secret to this book is revealed in the first paragraph of the acknowledgements at the back. John Thorn writes that he spent more than 25 years accumulating information on the origins of baseball, and his research could continue endlessly. But he had to do a book eventually, and so he did the best he could. The result is a book full of interesting information but a lack of unity.

On many levels, the book is excellent. Thorn does a great service by dispelling the myths that Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright invented baseball. He shatters those myths and gives proper credit to the many skeptics who challenged those claims decades ago. That's fine.

But in other ways, it stumbles when Thorn attemptss two tougher tasks: explain how baseball did develop, and explain why/how Doubleday was inaccurately fingered as the game's visionary. The problem is that in tracking those two stories, Thorn keeps crossing back and forth distractedly, while providing a series of "so what?" moments.

First, the history of the game. Thorn does a wonderful job of detailing the baseball-playing environment in metro areas in the US in the 1930s and 1940s and why the N.Y. Knickerbockers were (incorrectly, exaggeratingly) credited as playing the first baseball game and creating the game's first written rules. He gives credit to the other NY-area teams that can equally claim to have set the rules that we know of as baseball. He writes (as have others) that if the Knickerbockers were the first team, how could they lose their first game 23-1? Obviously, others were playing a similar game at a similarly high level.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quiz: What city was the Forest City team from? The Kekionga? These are two of baseball's earlier teams from the 1870s.

If you are a baseball fan and interested in the sport's history, this book would be a fun read. It is written in a rather non-linear fashion which can frustrate one, but--nonetheless--it ends up working out pretty well. I enjoyed this book. Do you believe that Abner Doubleday had anything to do with the origin of baseball? Prepare to be disappointed! But--even stranger, how did Doubleday come to be so honored, as was his home town of Cooperstown, NY?

This book goes back well before Doubleday and other purported founders to show where the game evolved from. Cricket? Rounders? The Massachusetts game? The New York game? And so on. Certainly the precursors of American baseball were apparent before Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the early 1840s.

Many of baseball's early stars and founding figures are discussed here: Harry Wright, Candy Cummings, Cap Anson, and A. G. Spalding--baseball player and later businessman. Indeed, the story of Spalding helps to explain Doubleday's honor. No spoilers here, but, he, his paramour and future wife, Elizabeth Churchill Mayer, and Abner Doubleday were all Theosophists--with Doubleday at one point serving as President of the society.

All sorts of historical byways are explored, in baseball and in the larger society.

A lot of fun. . . .

Oh, by the way, it was the Rockford (IL) Forest Citys and the Fort Wayne Kekionga!
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Format: Hardcover
Scanning through the previous reviews here, I found that "Avid Reader" of 22 May 2011 well articulated many of my criticisms of this book. I would like to add a few other comments, however.

First of all, I think this book will be fascinating to anyone who is interested in baseball and its history, hence my four-star rating. There is a wealth of information here that goes well beyond anything I've seen before. To me, though, the book is in desperate need of better editing.

The book begins with the story of the Mills Commission, organized at the behest of Albert Spalding in the early twentieth century to determine the origins of baseball. The commission's final report in 1908 stated, with Abraham Mills's judicious reservations, that Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839 in Cooperstown, NY. This is a strong way to enter into the central theme of Thorn's book, baseball's origins and origin myths. If it were up to me, he would then trace the other possible "inventors" of baseball, debunking them as needed, and eventually offering his own views on where and how baseball developed. Instead, I found the first few chapters very haphazard in their organization. In them, Thorn jumps back and forth across various time periods and between various clubs in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts, seemingly discussing new facts in the order that his research revealed them, rather than in a more coherent narrative. It is revealed that parts of the book were originally published as journal articles; perhaps this explains the unclear progression of these chapters. I think a strong editor could have found a better way to structure this part of the book.
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