My girlfriend first brought the Best American Sports Writing series to my attention in 1992 by giving me that year's edition as a Chrismas present. I showed my gratitude by burying my head in its covers and ignoring the outside world (her included) until I had finished. Since that time I have been a keen follower of the series. Because I live in Australia I have little prior background to many of the stories, but this perhaps gives me an objectivity which enhances my enjoyment. The "Best American Sports Writing of the Century" is a seriously thick compilation of some fantastic pieces. Although falling short of the editors' lofty aims of being a portrait of American life over the past 100 years, it nevertheless manages to identify many of the people and defining moments that have become integral to (admittedly, my perception) of modern American history. My favourite story - perhaps George Plimpton's 'Medora Goes to the Game', a wonderfully uplifting tale of a father's sneaky attempts to convince his 9 year old daughter to aspire to his alma mater, set against the backdrop of the 1980 Harvard-Yale game. Second place to 'Into Thin Air', Jon Krakauer's harrowing personal tale of tragedy on Everest. There are many other classics, too numerous to mention here - one that particularly fascinated me was Paul Solotaroff's shocking portrayal of steroid abuse in the body building world. Brickbats to Murray Kempton's play-by-play account of a baseball game, which failed to inspire me (to be fair, possibly because I am not familiar with the game's intricacies). Also, thumbs down to the editors for selecting no fewer than 6 pieces on Muhummad Ali (a trap which the UK-based Picador sports writing anthology also falls into) Davis Miller's excellent piece notwithstanding. But perhaps the most fascinating insight the book gave me was the fragile mental state of some of America's most famous boys of summer - Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Joe Di Maggio. All three appeared to me to have, as we say in Australian vernacular, 'a 'roo loose in the top paddock', surely begging the question - does an athlete need to be ill at ease with the world to achieve greatness, or does America's adoration and constant media attention lead to a wariness and deluded view of self-importance that cannot be extinguished ?
The selection are excellent (they'd have to be for best writing of the century). The essays show a love of sports but also deeper meditations on the art of writing, as well as society. Endless amounts of ink have been used in describing seasons' worth of stats and hyperbole but it is the quiet nature of the essay that allows a deeper glimpse behind the stats or beyond the glare of the media. The essays on DiMaggio and Williams are examples of showing life after baseball and at the same time the influence of these men on the sport. The only drawback I saw to the book was no information about the writers themselves. I am looking through the prism of a writer -- catching facets of light and form. Through the writer I am seeing someone who is seen by millions. I can speculate on the writer or if the writer is upfront about their views of the person but the writer is a mystery at the same time they are revealing the mystery of the sport or sportsmen. I would recommend this book not only for the lover of sports but also to anyone who appreciates good writing in general. As a newbie to reading sportwriting it was a very welcome introduction.
If you're a sports fan, do yourself a favor and buy this book. Read it slowly and enjoy each of these amazing articles. Great sportswriting stands the test of time, and each of these entries read as well now as they did when they were first published.
Consistently great, always interesting and occasionally just plain fantastic sports writing, although I don't think you need to be a jock to enjoy this book - writing by Mailer, Talese, Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson speak to everyone regardless of the subject. This is a book to read and savor over a long period of time, to return to often, and share among friends. Halberstam's picks give the book a surprising and provocative historical edge. While the omission of A.J. Leibling and a few others are surprising, it's more than made up for by the inclusion of some superb surprises. Take this book on vacation - or take a vacation by reading this book.
A compelling collection of stories about exceptional characters who happen to be sports stars. Although I would have enjoyed reading more about modern-day heroes, the stories do a great job invoking the atmosphere of idol worship at the time and the vivid pain each author suffers at having to discover that each of their role models has feet of clay. The only mistake is the inclusion of the terribly-written, egomaniacal account of the doomed foray up Mt. Everest, "Into Thin Air." Didn't Krakauer make enough money from sales of his novel?
Great writers. Great subjects. Very insightful and revealing. A must, if you're a sports fan. Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams & Joe Louis, to name a very few of the fascinating articles...written by people who were there...a must read!