The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth
Doubleday, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
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Reviewed by Tim Davis
He was the Sultan of Swat. The Caliph of Clout. The Wizard of Whack. The Bambino. And simply, to his teammates, the Big Bam.
' He was George Herman Ruth, the orphan from Baltimore who would become (arguably) the most famous and most significant baseball player in the history of American sports.
ow, Leigh Montville's excellent biography arrives on the scene to fascinate fans of baseball (and students of American popular culture which has always loved oversized myths and legends). With his unprecedented access to a phenomenal assortment of interviews and documents - including thousands of pages of the Big Bam's personal scrapbooks - best-selling biographer Montville, with crisp narrative prose and a treasure trove of relevant details, has (as the publisher justifiably boasts), hit '
another one out-of-the-park with his new book.
o, why read yet another biography of Babe Ruth? There are plenty of them already collecting dust on library bookshelves. Well, one reason is rather simple: The book is very well written, and it is filled with wonderful information. However, it is also ironically relevant to the year 2006. In fact, I think this book arrives at just the right time in the continuous history of American baseball.
s I write this review, the sports news is preoccupied with Barry Bonds, a baseball player whose place in sports history now seems pathetically poised on the brink of ignominy. Yesterday, in fact, Bonds hit home-run number 714, which ties the record set decades earlier by Babe Ruth (even though Ruth's record was subsequently eclipsed relatively recently by a player whom I regard as a much more impressive baseball hero, Hank Aaron). Actually, by the time readers see this review, Bonds - assuming his anomalous physique doesn't explode because of his suspected past (or is it still his present?) steroid consumption - will probably move (with an asterisk?) beyond Ruth in the record books. Of course, baseball fanatics have an obsession with numbers and records. And to put the Bonds - and - Ruth controversy into perspective, and - at the same time - to have a better appreciation for the too often overlooked achievements of Hank Aaron, I would suggest that you simply must read Montville's new book.
ou may think you know all there is know about the adored and worshipped Babe Ruth, but I think you will be quite surprised to discover the real
. The indisputable facts, you see, have had (and still have) a strange way of becoming lost within the artifice of this country's culturally constructed heroic personalities. So, with every page of
The Big Bam
, you will gain a better understanding of what happened in the past (and, perhaps more significantly, what is happening now) when Americans obsessively transform sports history's blood-and-bones individuals into iconic figures more appropriately found in classical myths and legends. Yes, some sports heroes probably deserve the artificial elevation to cultural gods or goddesses. However, some sports heroes are, in fact, so different, so controversial, so abnormal, and so flawed, that it remains a mystery as to why Americans would ever embrace and admire them. And
The Big Bam
is indispensable to readers in 2006 who are eager to discern and grapple with the differences.
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