Sunday, November 14, 2010

Leavy reveals the man behind the myth in The Last Boy

Book 96: The Last Boy, Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood by Jane Leavy

Bed wetter. Womanizer. Alcoholic.

Mickey Mantle was all these things. He was also -- for all too brief a time -- the finest baseball player in the game. No one could hit the ball farther or harder than the kid from Commerce. He ran the bases faster than anyone and, if he was a so-so fielder, he ran down balls that others could only dream of reaching.

His radiant smile, chiseled body, tousled blonde hair and an easy, unforced modesty that led him to keep his head down as he rounded the bases after another home run, made him one of the most popular men in the game, among both players and the fans. Mickey was an icon.

Jane Leavy explores the reality behind the icon in her book, The Last Boy. This is a much different biography than the one she wrote on Sandy Koufax in 2002. That was an elegant book, but Koufax was an elegant man. The Last Boy is a coarser work, because Mantle could be, was, a coarse man.

Leavy's biography of the Oklahoma great invokes laughter in one passage and sadness in the next. She is unsparing in serving up details that strip away the facade created by Yankee publicists and an uncritical press, allowing us to see Mantle as man rather than myth. Fragile. Vulnerable. Crude.

If The Last Boy is not as fine a work as Sandy Koufax, it is a necessary one. Leavy allows us to see all of Mantle's greatness and all his faults. In doing so, she leaves us with the portrait of a man that we can continue to admire, yet also pity.

Book 97: Worth Dying For by Lee Child

Bad guys. Really bad guys. A cowed Nebraska farming community. A half-dozen hoods from Las Vegas. And Jack Reacher.

This isn't a spoiler, but Reacher walks away in the end. The bad guys aren't so lucky.

That's all you need to know about Worth Dying For. That and it's a quick, fun read.

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