Most of the baseball books I've read (such as the one I reviewed most recently, The Baseball Codes) are about the *game* of baseball. Kurlansky's is different. Unlike your average book about the sport, in The Eastern Stars you'll rarely find the phrase, "The count was 3 and 2, with 2 outs." Instead, this book is about the cultural history of baseball in a place and economic system that is foreign to most of us. It's fascinating -- assuming that you are as attracted as I am to anthropology, or "how one item can impact an entire society."
Kurlansky is no stranger to this kind of writing, as his previous books (such as Salt: A World History) demonstrate. But I hadn't realized until I read The Eastern Stars that he has a long journalistic history in the Dominican Republic, and the depth of his knowledge really shows. This isn't someone who flew in for a few weeks worth of interviews; Kurlansky is well aware of the frequency with which the power goes out in the Dominican Republic, and people's dependence on motorbikes (I once saw five people on a two-person motorbike -- plus a guitar). In fact, if you're interested in the Dominican Republic without any reference to baseball, this would be an excellent overview. I certainly wish I'd read his chapter on the country's history before I spent a week in the country in the mid 90s. (I stayed with friends, cooking on a gas stove powered with rum. It was a very long way from any resort hotel.) There are points where I began to suspect that the author was trying to decide if his book should be about the history/impact of sugar (to accompany Salt) rather than baseball, because he paints such a vivid picture of the last century in the sugar industry.
But the crux of this book is baseball, and the tiny Dominican town called San Pedro de Macoris -- where 79 major leaguers originated between 1962 and 2008, one out of every six of the Dominicans who made it to the major league. You know their names: Sammy Sosa, George Bell, Julio Franco, Robinson Cano. What you may not realize is the distance those men traveled, from raging poverty to the very foreign United States (most spoke no English when they arrived, leading Kurlansky to share several entertaining anecdotes about how the boys managed to order food). Baseball was and is the path out of a dead-end existence, and young boys play baseball constantly -- even though many have no baseballs, only socks filled with whatever is available. Much of the town's ecosystem has been tuned to the purpose, such as the buscons who run baseball academies to train young and talented boys (and get a percentage of the signing bonus, when there is one).
Mostly, Kurlansky does his best to look for, "What makes this town so special?" -- and I really enjoyed his search for the answer. He applies an excellent journalistic sense to "America's pasttime" (even if there are more non-U.S. players every year) that explains why MLB looks for talent outside our country, how the Dominican government influenced baseball (including one season in which they paid Negro League players handsomely to compete, since Trujillo was bound for HIS team to win), and where the failing sugar industry fits into all this.
If you seek a fun, fluffy book full of baseball anecdotes, this may not be the book you're looking for. However, if you want a picture of baseball's social impact and a keyhole view into the lives of several of your favorite players... well, this is a truly excellent book.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Needs a Cohesive Narrative and More Detailed, Compelling Character Profiles9 mai 2010
New York Times best-selling author Mark Kurlansky approaches The Eastern Stars, not as a baseball fan but as a dispassionate journalist, and his approach, while professional and competent, is detrimental to the book because the dry, academic tone does not give life to the Dominican players described; the character profiles are never developed into a cohesive narrative and remain scant and superficial; and finally the book's purpose evidenced by its subtitle: "How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris" is too simplistic. Yes, players from the Dominican escaped their poverty to make millions playing Major League Baseball. Not a compelling premise. No compelling baseball player profiles or at least little new for the baseball fan. Learning about Rico Carty's spending sprees (buying dozens of pairs of shoes in one outing) makes for interesting anecdotage but doesn't make an entire book. I'm sad to say The Eastern Stars was a boring read and as a baseball fan I was very disappointed.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Does anyone edit or fact check anymore?8 juillet 2010
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Mr. Kurlansky owes Manny Alexander an apology...a BIG apology. I was really looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, Mr. Kurlansky writes about baseball as if it's a vague and foreign concept for him. The book is also chock full of factual errors. Most are harmless and show a total lack of understanding of baseball and well...just plain laziness by the author, editor and publisher. One is just awful. He states that while a member of the Yankees in 2000, Manny Alexander took equipment from Derek Jeter and sold it to memorabilia dealers. WRONG! Alexander never played for the Yankees. The incident happened in 2002 and the player caught dealing Jeter's equipment was not Manny Alexander. What had become an exercise of finding the error or clueless statement (Yes, Alfredo Griffin did hit .500 one season for Cleveland...in four at-bats), became one of jaw-dropping shock at how a well-respected non-fiction writer could have been so dangerously lazy.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Excellent Read That's Not Your Typical Baseball Book8 août 2010
As a huge fan of baseball and a bigger fan of baseball books, I was a little surprised by Kurlansky's latest book. Most other baseball books are written by authors who are clearly passionate fans of the game. With this comes a focus on details of the sport that includes literary representation of games--or particular moments from games--and heavy reliance on statistics. Kurlansky's focus here is not the details of games but how professional baseball has impacted the culture and way of life of the Dominican Republic in general with s focus on San Pedro de Macoris, a small town that has produced 79 major league ball players between 1962 and 2008. Further, Kurlansky demonstrates himself as a journalist who knows a lot about the country. His focus is on the cultural history of the island and the impact of baseball on the culture and economics of the island. He does share anecdotes of famous players but most of these focus on their life outside of the diamond. We see how these famous players and their wealth have inspired a nation and a city to stress baseball to their male children as a way to overcome widespread poverty. It is fascinating to consider that even a modest (by today's standard) signing bonus is the equivalent of years of salary. Kurlansky shares that even players who have had very moderate success in baseball are able to return to the Dominican as heroes and set their families up in comparative luxury and security.
In addition to the impact of the game on the city and country, Kurlansky focuses on why this area has become such a fertile birthplace for baseball talent. He points out how politics and economics (he spends a lot of time on the failing sugar industry and its contribution to baseball) have all contributed to focusing on baseball as the road to wealth and comfort for thousands.
It seems that many of the negative reviews of this book come from baseball fans like me who hoped for a more traditional baseball book. Another thing that is difficult for me as a fan of the game is to learn about how the MLB develops these young kids in training academies in the hopes of finding the next Sammy Sosa or Robinson Cano but drops them as soon as they are no longer a prospect. On the other hand, I guess this is the nature of sports in our modern world. In summary, if you are looking for a book that is devoted to stories of the game, this may not be the book for you. If you want a book that takes a hard look at how baseball impacts a community and its economy and culture and vise versa, then this is a book that you will enjoy.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
I'm a big Mark Kurlansky fan, (I loved "Cod", "The Big Oyster", and "Gloucester"), so I'm sorry to say I was a little disappointed with this latest effort. Although the book is only a little over 200 pages, it still felt too long for the subject matter. I think this might have been better as a longish magazine article. The structure isn't so great, either. The book kind of meanders along with little bits of island history, current politics, baseball anecdotes, and short biographical snippets of some of the famous and not-so-famous players. Just when you feel you are getting comfortable with one particular aspect of the story, the book veers off in another direction. It ruins the flow and is very disconcerting.It is also somewhat odd that throughout the book Mr. Kurlansky encloses various traditional recipes popular in the Dominican Republic! This seems especially jarring when one of the recipes follows a section of serious reporting dealing with the poverty that exists throughout the island. What makes the book an okay read, rather than something I couldn't recommend, is that Mr. Kurlansky writes well, has a good eye for detail, and a nice sense of humor. Some of the anecdotes are quite amusing. For example, the story that relates to the title of my review. It seems that former major league baseball great Rico Carty credited his ability to hit the curveball to his experiences as a youth playing in the Dominican Republic. Because everybody was so poor, they couldn't afford real baseballs. So they would roll-up some socks and make balls out of them, and then dip them in water to give them the heft of a real ball. As Carty pointed out, when someone throws a bunch of rolled-up socks at you the "ball" does some pretty weird things on the way to home plate! There are numerous other anecdotes which are pretty funny as well, but overall, due to the problems mentioned above, I found this to be just a so-so read.