Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville

Among the many passions of Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, long-time professor at Harvard University, and essayist, was baseball. Gould died in May, 2002, and he is best remembered for his explanations of evolutionary science for non-specialists in essays and books and his use of the history of science as a tool in furthering public understanding of the way science worked. But he also wrote quite a lot about baseball.

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball consists of thirty-three previously published items and two original essays. The reprinted material includes opinion pieces from newspapers, which are short and to the point; longer essays from magazines and books, which allowed Gould to develop those nuanced, multi-layered arguments he so loved to present to readers; and book reviews. Both of the original essays are autobiographical in nature. One looks at the role baseball fandom played in the assimilation of immigrants into the American way of life. The other reflects on the sports Gould played as a child on the streets of New York in the decade after the end of World War II.

Lovers of Gould’s writings and followers of baseball who enjoy reading the insights and judgments of a thoughtful, opinionated, and articulate fan will love this book.. There are two caveats. Gould was raised in New York City and spent most of his adult life in Boston. The Yankees and the Red Sox were the dominant teams in his baseball world. Readers from other parts of the country may suffer Yankee/Red Sox fatigue. Also, in spite of what is written in the “Editor’s Note,” neither Gould nor his editor appear to have revised the essays very much prior to republication.