The Boys of Summer Critical Context - Essay

Roger Kahn

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Kahn was not the first author to achieve literary distinction through the medium of baseball. Before Kahn was born, Ring Lardner had produced baseball stories of unquestionable literary merit. Bernard Malamud had already published The Natural in 1952. Nor was Kahn the first to present a behind-the-scenes account of real-life baseball. In 1960, Jim Brosnan, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, had published The Long Season, a very popular nonfiction portrayal of life in the big leagues. Brosnan’s revelations were tame compared to those in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four (1970). Thus the public was about as disillusioned as it could get by the time Kahn’s book was published. Nevertheless, Kahn did break new ground with The Boys of Summer, achieving a rich combination of baseball lore, profound characterization, and social commentary in a nonfiction work of high literary quality. This penetrating treatment of American popular culture helped to lay the groundwork (and reveal a market) for a string of high-quality nonfiction works on baseball by authors such as Roger Angell and Thomas Boswell.

Kahn himself also has returned several times to the subject of baseball. A Season in the Sun (1977) is a collection of in-depth articles on various college, minor-league, and major-league baseball happenings during the 1976 season. Providing a loose sequel to The Boys of Summer, the book is dedicated to Kahn’s mother. The Seventh Game (1982) is a raucous baseball novel. Good Enough to Dream (1985) recounts Kahn’s experience as the owner of an independent team in the low minors. While only the last book has met with critical success comparable to that of The Boys of Summer, all three have achieved wide readership. In them, Kahn has continued to pay homage to the game of baseball, finding in it the stuff of truly universal human concerns.