Reviews for Baseball : an illustrated history

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A magnificent, exhaustively researched chronicle in words and pictures of our nation's pastime, and how it came to be what it is. In their analysis and celebration of baseball's evolution over 150 years from a game played on vacant city lots in front of a few lookers-on to present-day contests in domed stadia with television audiences approaching one billion, Ward and Burns (The Civil War, 1990) divide the sport's history into nine sections (or innings), each with accompanying essays by such notable writers as Gerald Early, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and George Will. Perhaps most noteworthy is this volume's ability to examine the game while remaining blessedly free from the overanalysis and intellectualization that are common to such comprehensive studies. To wit: Babe Ruth is seen not so much as a lens through which a historical era can be studied, but as a great player whose accomplishments helped alter millions of fans' connection to the game. Also worthy of high praise is the straightforward depiction of black players' exclusion, stemming from an unwritten agreement among team owners, during the period spanning from the late 1800s until 1947. It is made painfully clear, particularly in an interview with Negro League star Buck O'Neil, that prejudice deprived the game of several of its greatest players--and that integration, while having made great strides both in baseball and America, has a long way to go. Burns's assertion in the preface that baseball is a ``powerful metaphor...for all Americans'' might be dismissed by some as just a tad ingenuous. However, the true genius of this work is in demonstrating how the baseball diamond does provide a common ground for a nation comprised of disparate elements, overcoming cultural, ethnic, and regional barriers better than nearly any other institution. This companion volume to an upcoming PBS series also stands on its own as a literary achievement. (First printing of 400,000; Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)