Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville:
A Lifelong Passion for Baseball
By Steven Jay Gould
The idiosyncratic Steven Jay Gould died in 2002, leaving behind not only a fantastic volume of popular and serious science writings from his work as a paleontologist at Harvard University, but also this volume, a collection of the scientistís less serious, but no less elegant, writings on baseball. Gould was a brilliant man, but a passionate baseball fan as well, and no less a luminary than author Steven King suggested Gould collect his baseball work in one volume, and shortly before his death, Gould obliged.
I knew of Gould as a scientist, only cross referencing him with baseball because of his famous semi scientific essay about the extinction of the .400 hitter that has appeared in many compilations. But Gould turns out to have been a fan like many others, and while fully acknowledging his Yankee partisanship (a sin forgivable by me only for the truly elite, like Gould, Billy Joel, and Billy Crystal) I completely enjoyed his look at the pastime.
Gould was a mature writer, not apologizing for his intelligence, nor talking down to his audience, but merely sharing with them his views on baseball and its significance. Gould includes numerous book reviews, where he is able to complete the admirable task of not only describing the work reviewed, but also asking larger questions about what baseball books are for and why they matter to us. Gould, if nothing else, was a constant prober, asking questions and trying to learn more about his subjects with his marvelous intellect. Accompanying him on the journey is truly a joy.
Gould is a bit more complex than Angell (whose work Gould admits to admiring), but is well worth the work of exploring his complex world. Angell shows you the game, but Gould also shows you the world, which is somehow the larger gift. Highly recommended to all serious baseball fans. --Mike Webb