Nationals Baseball: Books!

Friday, March 20, 2020


To round out the media triumvirate (sorry Fibber McGee & Molly we aren't doing ol' timey radio shows - but a trial of SiriusXM had me listening to too many of those) let's go with what you are reading. Now currently reading or reading last year will only work for voracious readers. For the rest of us just put out some of your favorite books.

I'll start - I'll note that I pretty much never read fiction. Well that's not true - sometimes I'll quickly read through some of my kids books (ask me about Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but adult fiction eh.  I keep saying I'll pick it up again but there's always a good non-fiction book right there. OK given that caveat and the caveat that I pretty much forget what I don't own. So this is pretty much limited to what I see on my shelves right now. 

Let's start with baseball

Of course there's the Nats Trilogy - Jesse's book, which I'm sure is fine. National Pastime, Barry's book on the honestly pretty crazy 2005 season, and The Grind which is an expanded verison of the collection of articles Barry wrote that year about... well the grind of the baseball season.  I'll recommend all.

The Soul of Baseball - Posnanski goes around with Buck O'Neill in exactly the type of book Joe Posnanski should be writing.

The Arm - now that you all love Daniel Hudson it's worth a read to find out how he got here. 

Not baseball

Battle Cry of Freedom - a big but not dense single volume tome on the Civil War.  I liked it so much it's the only book I've purchased multiple copies of (I have the illustrated hardcover)

Candace Millard's books are usually great - River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt stupidly goes dwn the Amazon), Destiny of the Republic (Dumb doctors basically kill a saveable James Garfield). Erik Larson's as well - there like a dozen here.

If you can handle tough subjects Killers of the Flower Moon and Devil in the Grove are great books and Columbine is fantasticly thorough and sensitive take on that incident.

Less harrowing - I enjoyed Rocket Men (about the flight to space before the moon landing), K Blows Top is fun (about Kruschev touring the US), Pictures of a Revolution (about the 5 best pic nods in 1969 and how they showed the end of the old guard and beginning of the 70s golden era)

Ok that's a start. 


Cautiously Pessimistic said...

For the statheads here, I'm a big fan of Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise". Gets into the weeds of modeling across a bunch of different fields, but does so in a digestible way. And of course there's Moneyball

For those who love dystopias and feel like we're living in one currently, there's the classics of Brave New World, 1984, Slaughterhouse 5, and Catch 22.

A quick read that's one of my favorite books is A Man Called Ove. Super funny and a little dark while also being heartwarming.

And then there's the coming of age baseball book The Art of Fielding.

Chas R said...

Ok! Well, I'll admit to being a bit of an obsessive reader. I have one of those Kindles and it is so easy to buy books! I buy a lot of books. If I don't like a particular book or find one I'm more interested in, I'll not finish it. Here are some of my favorites that I recently read:

For the Good of the Game- Bud Selig
Smart Baseball- Keith Law
The Arm- Jeff Passan
The Grind- Svrluka
Men At Work- George Will

Other books:

Call Sign Chaos- Jim Mattis' autobiography
Shut Up and Listen- Tilman Fertita (billionaire owner of entertainment and restaurant chains and owner of the Houston Rockets)
Sea Stories- William McRaven (Navy SEAL and Admiral)

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. Did you know Scorsese and Leo are making "Killers of the Flower Moon" right now?

I love Erik Larson's books. Especially Devil in the White City and "In the Garden of Beasts".
Big fan of Hampton Sides as well: Blood and Thunder, In the Kingdom of Ice, Hellhound on his Trail
I read a lot of presidential biographies. Among favorites are probably "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris (ends when he becomes president) and McCullough's John Adams and Truman bios. Some other fav nonfiction books, I'd strongly recommend for anybody who hasn't read them:
"The Right Stuff," Malcolm X's autobiography,
"Into Thin Air" (Jon Krakauer about Everest climb);
"Zealot" by Reza Aslan (a bio of Jesus as a purely historical figure, rather than the messianic religious savior story created by Paul after he died--not trying to offend anybody here....I'm just relaying what the book is about. Take it or leave it--I'm Jewish and more than any other book this got me fascinated in reading about history of Christianity.)

For any fiction fans, I read a lot of that as well. Best novels I've read recently are
"Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" (Susanna Clarke),
"The Plot Against America" (Philip Roth, the HBO series is out now),
The entire Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell which she just completed,
"Dune" by Frank Herbert (I only just read this recently....most often listed as greatest sci-fi novel of all time, and worth reading before film by Denis Vileneuve comes out next year if the plague ever ends).
"Lush Life" by Richard Price (I'll read anything by Richard Price)
"Midnight's Children" (Salman Rushdie....also by him, I like 'The Moor's Last Sigh' and 'Satanic Verses')
'Blood Meridian' by Cormac McCarthy (this is no beach read...intense, but spectacular with the greatest villain of all time)

Just a selection for you.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved books about baseball's Golden Age, i.e. Halberstam's "Summer of 49", Jane Leavy's Koufax biography and Mickey Mantle's memoir. I would also give anything to be able to find my old copies of Bill James' Baseball Abstracts from the mid-1980s, not just for the original sabremetric insights, but also because some of the team introductory essays were actually pretty interesting/entertaining (i.e. from 1985, his position-by-position comparison of the 1984 Tigers to all the other 100 win World Series champs of the past 25 years).

I'm also a sucker for military history/biography. Easily the best thing I've read in a while in that category was Benjamin Runkle's "Generals in the Making", a group bio of the Army's WWII commanders (Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, etc.) when they were junior officers between the wars.

Michael E said...

I concur with @BxJaycobb that David MuCullough is wonderful - "The Johnstown Flood" (his first book) reads like a novel and shows clearly the talent for storytelling that is so striking throughout his career. My personal favorite is "The Great Bridge," which tells the story of building the Brooklyn Bridge, although many folks like/prefer "The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870–1914" or "Mornings on Horseback" (a biography of Teddy Roosevelt).

For fiction, I grew up on Tolkien, survived high school on Vonnegut, and graduated college still convinced that Hemingway & Twain were geniuses (which hasn't changed).

More recently, I'd recommend:
"White Teeth" by Zadie Smith - a crazy whirlwind of a family story; she writes with such effortless detail that often there's more detail on a single page than some contemporary novels have in a whole book (okay, that hyperbole, but it does feel like it at times).

The Rougon-Macquart series by Emile Zola - 20 novels published over 23 years between 1871 and 1893. Each novel explores a different aspect of life under the Second Empire of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon III). Among the best volumes are:
-- "Germinal" (life in the coal mines / company towns of northern France),
-- "L'Assommoir" (the plight of the poor working class of Paris, wracked by alcoholism, poverty and madness),
-- "The Belly of Paris" (set in the food market of Les Halles in central Paris, this is a delight for the senses with some political rebellion thrown in to the mix),
-- "La Bête Humaine" (infidelity, the perfect murder, and a tragedy you realize is going to happen and yet are still amazed at the impact it has on you);
-- "Nana" (perhaps the most famous / infamous of the series - about a Parisian actress and prostitute who rises in society to such heights that she ruins numerous men prior to her own inevitable demise - this is not a morality tale, because [at least for me] you are rooting for Nana the whole time)
These are my favorites. Read the Oxford Classics editions if you can - the translations are sparse and modern without any of the faux Victorianism that often creeps into older translations of Zola.

If you haven't read "Anna Karenina" by Tolstoy, then by all means do. It really is a haunting, beautiful, marvelous, devastating book. (Again, the Oxford Classics translation is wonderful.)

BxJaycobb said...

Sorry, I just realized i should probably describe a lot of the things i mentioned. First, I made it sound like "The Right Stuff" is Malcolm X's autobiography. It is very much not. LOL. "The Right Stuff" is Tom Wolfe's amazing book about the development of the US space program (you mightve seen the movie they made from it, which is quite solid actually for an adaptation). Malcolm X's autbio is....his autiobio. Also made into a film by Spike Lee with Denzel..and also very solid. But both of these are really worth reading even if youve caught the films.

Larsen: 'Devil in the White City' is about the world's fair in chicago around turn of century and possibly the first ever modern serial killer who took advantage of it.
"In the Garden of Beasts" is about the American ambassador and his family that lived in Nazi Berlin in the years leading up to WW2. SIDES: "Blood and Thunder" is about Kit Carson and conquest of the west by US. "Hellhound on his Trail" is about the search for MLK's killer. 'In the Kingdom of Ice" is about an expedition to north pole where ship gets caught in the ice (there are a lot of these types of stories/books but this is a good one.

The fiction recs you can look up plot but....
"Jonathan Strange"=truly extraordinary fantasy/historical fiction genre blend about two magicians during Napoleonic wars in Great Britain.
"Plot Against America"=alternative past where philip roth reimagines his childhood in NJ in a jewish family, but what if isolationist/Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh beat FDR in prez election and drew America in a fascist direction (much better than things like man in the high castle)
Mantel trilogy (3 historical novels from perspective of thomas cromwell during the Henry/Ann Boleyn years)
Dune=extraordinary sci fi novel that takes place on a desert planet existing in a galactic wars ripped off a lot from this book.
Lush Life= gritty crime novel taking place in NYC thats a bit of a super modern whodunit. Nobody writes dialogue like Richard Price. He wrote many "Wire" episodes and "the outsider" which was just on hbo if u like those, u get the general vibe of what this novel is like.
Blood Meridian: Cormac McCarty's masterpiece and my favorite novel ever. you will never read prose like this anywhere else. your mileage may vary on whether you like his style...I would describe it as a mix of faulkner and melville. yes he belongs in that company. takes place in a gang (based on real historical gang) of americans riding around Mexican border trying to collect scalps of Native Americans. more about the setting and writing than the plot, but wow is this a book.
Midnight's Children: Rushdie's greatest book (most would agree, although not his most controversial since satanic verses almost got him killed!)....about a child who realizes he has a telepathic connection with all of the children born at midnight when India gained independence. uses magical realism in a lovely way. just a gorgeous read.

JE34 said...

...'t aiiin't funny, McGee...

I'm generally a nonfiction guy, and wholeheartedly harrumph the McCullough sentiment. John Adams was superb. I like war histories. The Guns of August about the outbreak of WWI is great... Flags of our Fathers was tremendous.

The Storytellers by Curt Smith is a collection of little stories from a half century of baseball broadcasters... enjoyed that quite a bit.

And fiction-wise, if you're having a bad day, you can't go wrong with PG Wodehouse.

Anonymous said...

My current favorite books are murder mysteries that fall under the rubric of “Nordic Noir.” These are dark (mood and weather) stories that explore the underbelly of life in seemingly well-functioning Scandinavian societies. One of the common themes is that the (mis)deeds of the past live on, never losing their ability to affect current events. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the best known of the genre, but there are probably 25 different authors. Google Nordic Noir for suggestions, but you can't go wrong with Joe Nesbo, Lars Keppler, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and (my current favorite) Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Also, a lot of Nordic Noir has made it into movies and mini-series that are available to stream. One of the best of the movies is Smilia's Sense of Snow.

anderiffick said...

Like Anonymous, I like Bill James. I recommend his book, The Guide to Baseball Managers.
I just finished reading James Clavell's King Rat and LOVED it. It is a story about American exceptionalism, told in the early 60's about a Japanese POW Camp and the people there.
If you like Punk Rock, Please Kill Me is a GREAT oral history with a laugh out loud moment @ every other page. Well written, or I guess I should say arranged, since it is just quotes put together quite well.

Josh Higham said...

River of Doubt and Killers of the Flower Moon are tremendous. Big second on Harper's recommendation for both.

A few books I loved from last year (I read about 2 books a month, which I think qualifies as voracious):
- A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza, a novel about a Pakistani immigrant family that I was absolutely amazed by.
- Let It Bang, RJ Young, a memoir about a young black guy who got into guns as a hobby to build a relationship with his father in law
- The Shift, Russell Carleton, some ideas about how to change baseball to be more human and humane, as well as more clever and innovative

Some of my other favorite books of the year were super political/SJW-ish and to keep things lighthearted, I'll keep those to myself.

Mr. T said...

Would just like to second Michael E's comment about Anna K. You can come back to that book at any age, in any frame of mind. There's something new to learn and admire each time.

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