Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One

Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One
Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One by Mark Kurlansky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quick, but interesting biography of Hank Greenberg--the first major Jewish baseball star. The book focuses quite a bit on the contrast of Greenberg’s own secularism with his fame as Jewish athlete. Greenberg was a hero to Jews in America in the 30s and 40s (and beyond), not just for being a great baseball player but for sitting out a regular season game against the Yankees because it fell on Yom Kippur. This was not from a need for religious observance, but from a connection to his family and culture. For many, this is perplexing: if he wasn’t religious, why would he care about playing on Yom Kippur. A similar question arises a generation later when Sandy Koufax does the same thing. It points to the difficult and complex nature of what it means to be a Jew in America…far beyond this review and the book. Kurlansky is not out to try to solve that enigma.

Kurlansky tries to do justice the Greenberg “myth”: he is not out to debunk or discredit Greenberg, but he also wants to get the story correct. The game with the Yankees was not one that really mattered (it was a regular season game and the Tigers had all but wrapped up the pennant), and though hurt, Greenberg said he would have played on Yom Kippur the following year against the Cubs during the World Series. (One wonders what would have happened to the Greenberg narrative had he played.) Kurlansky’s point is that Greenberg was a complex guy who balanced his love of baseball and his desire to win with his commitments to his family/roots and his recognition of the role he played in the public eye as a famous Jew. It was a struggle that he dealt with his whole life, and only in his later years did he, by most accounts, become comfortable in his role as a Public Jew. Kurlansky quotes Greenberg’s unpublished autobiography: “I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great baseball player, but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer. I realize now, more than I used, to how important a part I played in the lives of a generation of Jewish kids…” (143).

After his playing days, Greenberg moved over to the management and ownership side of the game. He lived a full life beyond baseball. Kurlansky writes “baseball was not the goal of Greenberg’s life; it was just a tool for achieving his goal” (143).

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: The Fountains of Paradise

The Fountains of Paradise
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clarke centers this novel around the fascinating idea of building a tower into space (to replace rockets). While I definitely enjoyed the story and found myself engrossed in it, the characterization was at a minimum. This took away from the overall novel for me. The story, in fact, centers much more around the tower and the mountain it is to be built on; they are really the central characters. Notwithstanding my criticism on this front, they are worthy enough to be the focus. I did especially liked the interludes that provided the context for the story. There is also an interesting sub-motif about religion, science, and how mankind (especially on these issues) might be affected by alien contact.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Review: Path Of The Assassin

Path Of The Assassin
Path Of The Assassin by Brad Thor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the Harvath character and Thor can certainly write a thriller. This delivers what one wants and expects from a thriller. However, I liked Loins of Lucerne better. While I liked this book, I did think the ending/climax came together a little too quickly and wasn't as satisfying as I would have liked.

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