Perry Wallace, a star athlete at Vanderbilt University in the 1960s, made civil rights history as the first black basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Now, half a century later, Andrew Maraniss, a Vanderbilt graduate, tells the story not only of Wallace’s historic struggle to overcome incredible obstacles but sets this struggle insightfully and instructively in the larger context of the American civil rights movement.
Against Football (Melville House, $22.95) is Steve Almond’s 175-page journalistic rethinking of America’s (and his own) deeply rooted passion for a sublimely destructive sport. Almond is a lifelong Raiders fan who has put up with decades of disappointment for the compensations of camaraderie with fellow devotees, including his father. But now he weighs the personal meaning the game has for him against the damning evidence of the leagues’ irresponsible treatment of the players. The NFL and team owners use these players to make billions of dollars, but deny the game has anything to do with the men’s brain damage and short lifespans. The money-making machine we know as football in fact raises the stakes every year; since teams began threatening to leave cities for the highest bidder, a tactic that peaked in the ‘90s, owners have extorted their communities for two decades now. Almond also outlines the role of high school and college programs in young men’s permanent brain damage, the evidence for which has been documented in studies conducted over the course of a single season. Given football’s many negatives, Almond still struggles to balance its destructiveness with the valuable communal bonds it fosters.
In his latest book, Tim Wendel, author of Summer of ’68, brings to life the 1991 World Series. He argues that this year had the best Series of all time – and his argument is pretty convincing. Through interviews with those who were there as well as his signature innate understanding of the game, Wendel recreates the suspense of the games. All baseball fans can relate to the journey these teams made on their way to the World Series. Perhaps what is most compelling, however, is that Wendel uses this story as a way to talk about the way Major League Baseball has changed as an industry. All told, this book is an important addition to the canon of baseball writing, and a great example of the literary potential of baseball.