Roger Kahn Peter S. Prescott - Essay

Peter S. Prescott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are many ways to waste one's youth; I wasted mine rooting for the Yankees and the Republicans. They were my teams, not because they won but because they were near: Yankee Stadium was an hour's drive from my home; the Democrats, a little farther. Brookyn was terra incognita—no one I knew had ventured there—though when my radio wandered off-course I could hear Red Barber speaking a nearly familiar language from a place called Ebbets Field. Not everyone, I knew, worshiped [Tommy] Henrich and [Charles "King Kong"] Keller, though it would take time for me to learn the inevitablity, the necessity, of defeat, the kind of defeat that makes men endure. My Yankees would presently exhibit it; Kahn's book about the Brooklyn Dodgers investigates and celebrates it….

"The Boys of Summer" invites us to remember what we once knew of these men—breaking curves, fast moves to the right, balls rising into the upper deck—and to recognize that our memories are not of men, but of figures in a landscape. The men come through in this book, not as fallen angels—the perspective on ballplayers that Jim Bouton adopted in "Ball Four"—but as whole men, seen in the totality of their lives so far. Kahn not only shows us what they are, he looks at how they began. A sense of awe, picked up as a child, persists as he reports on their present condition.

Kahn's book is knowledgeable, leisurely and anecdotal, as good informal baseball writing must be. But it is more: Kahn never forgets that he is writing about men in relation to a certain discipline, a certain level of achievement, a certain process of decline, and as such his book acquires a cumulative power. It is not just another book about baseball or a boy growing up to like baseball, but a book about pain and defeat and endurance, about how men, anywhere, must live. I fear that people who are bored by baseball will not read it, which would be as bright a decision as for those bored by military history to overlook [Leo Tolstoy's] "War and Peace."

Peter S. Prescott, "The Glory of Their Times," in Newsweek, Vol. LXXIX, No. 11, March 13, 1972, p. 94.