Reviews for Jackie Robinson : A Biography


The Book Report Reviews 1998 March-April
Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball when he made the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Not just the first black player, he was a star: rookie of the year, most valuable player, All-Star, World Series performer, Hall-of-Famer. But this is not merely a litany of games, performances, and statistics. The book explores the roles of others, such as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' general manager; Rachel, Robinson's wife; and friends and players within the context of the times. For instance, l fall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella is portrayed as a great player, but timid when confronting racial injustices. But teammate Peewee Reese is short-changed by not being given enough credit for helping Robinson ride out the tough times. Robinson is seen as a man of contradictions and complexities. Many recalled him as fractious and disruptive others as caring and friendly, the ultimate team player. Some found him arrogant, hut he was quick to apologize when proven wrong. About one-third of the ell-written book traces his early life--in Pasadena, California; as a four-sport star at UCLA; in the U.S. Army in World War II; and as a player in the Negro leagues. The middle section focuses on "the adventure," from his minor league season in Montreal to his career in Brooklyn. His active post-baseball life--civil rights advocate, political activist, businessman, family man--is recounted in the book's last third. He confronted the issues of the day--black rights, economic power. Vietnam, drugs, party politics. Optional Purchase. Ron Marinucci, Social Studies Teacher, Milford High School, Highland, Michigan © 1998 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 August 1997
/*Starred Review*/ Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line 50 years ago, and the anniversary celebrations have been numerous. Professional baseball acknowledged his contribution to the game and society in a series of moving early-season ceremonies and by permanently retiring his uniform number. There has also been a clutch of new books about Robinson timed for the anniversary year, including memoirs by family members. Princeton English professor Rampersad, the author of a two-volume life of Langston Hughes, adds to that list with what is certain to become the definitive Robinson biography. Through exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with family members, teammates, business associates, and friends, Rampersad vividly re-creates the life of a man who may have had history thrust upon him by circumstance but who also understood the magnitude of his burden. Those who are at all familiar with Robinson know the bare bones of his story: his postwar signing by legendary Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey, the racist atmosphere he was forced to endure as baseball's first black player, his on-field success, and his subsequent career as a businessman and civil rights leader. It's all here but presented in greater detail and with more commentary by those who were present or nearby observers. We also learn much that is new about Robinson's earlier life, including his childhood spent in Pasadena, California, where he developed his extraordinary athletic skills as well as his intolerance for segregationist Jim Crow laws. Rampersad is an evenhanded biographer, and he brings an objectivity to his subject that only enhances Robinson's place in history. We close this remarkable book realizing again that while any number of others, under different circumstances, might have been the first African American to break baseball's color line, few would have been able to carry it off with Robinson's integrity and courage. An essential purchase for public libraries. ((Reviewed Aug. 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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BookPage Reviews 1997 October
Arnold Rampersad's new biography, "Jackie Robinson" was timed for release 50 years after Robinson became the first African-American to play major league baseball in the twentieth century. His book is not only a reminder of how far we've come in those 50 years, but how far we've come in the past 25 years in appreciating what Robinson accomplished in his career.In 1972, Robinson was alive for the silver anniversary of his arrival in the majors. The occasion was barely acknowledged; the baseball commissioner's office picked Robinson to throw out the ceremonial first ball at the second game of the World Series. The event did not receive much publicity, although Robinson made a few headlines for noting the absence of black managers from the game.Twenty-five years later, the fiftieth anniversary was the biggest special event of the baseball season. In April, Robinson's former team, the Dodgers, played the Mets in Robinson's former home city, New York. The game was stopped after the fifth inning. President Clinton spoke about Robinson's accomplishments, and baseball executive Bud Selig announced that Robinson's number - 42 - eventually would be retired by every major league team.Robinson deserves such tributes. He brought major league baseball into the modern era in spite of tremendous obstacles. The America of 1947 - not that long ago, when you think about it - was still a time of separate and unequal societies. Robinson had to fight to eat at the same restaurant, sleep at the same hotel, and drink out of the same water fountain as his teammates. He demanded equality, and had to win it slowly, battle by battle.Rampersad's book is its most exciting during the years when Robinson was in the midst of his baseball career. But those are the years that are the most familiar to people. The author thoroughly covers the early years of Robinson's life, when he showed why he was one of the greatest all-around athletes in the history of this country. Robinson was a top college football and basketball player, and a world-class track star. After retiring from baseball in 1957, Robinson worked at several business ventures but became most well known for speaking and writing about race relations in this country. His stances weren't always popular, but there was little doubt of his sincerity. Rampersad chronicles just how active Robinson was at this time, despite being slowed by the growing effects of diabetes. Along the way, the author quotes from Robinson's personal papers to give the reader insight into what Robinson was thinking at a particular time."Jackie Robinson" is a thorough look into the life of one of the most influential athletes of the century. It's a book that's worthy of its subject.Reviewed by Budd Bailey. Copyright 1999 BookPage Reviews

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Choice Reviews 1998 April
Jackie Robinson is a doubly notable figure. Within the somewhat circumscribed field of baseball history he is the player who integrated the game; within the much wider field of American social history he is a symbol of resolve, intensity, and achievement. The various 50th-year commemorations during 1997 celebrated both figures. Rampersad (literature, Princeton) has written a splendid life of this remarkable man. The author's strengths are his attention to detail, his readiness to allow his sources to speak for themselves, the discipline of his prose, and his conception of Robinson as, above all else, a man of courage. This is not simply a baseball biography: fully two-thirds of the book treats Robinson's life either before or after his Dodger days. It shows how Robinson struggled with the burden of having become an icon. While never losing its central biographical focus, it presents a picture of a divided American society. Indeed, through apposite quotations, it reminds us of just how hateful some portions of American society could be in the 1940s and 1950s. As the 20th century ends we are coming to recognize Jackie Robinson as one of the greatest Americans of modern times. With its thoroughness and honesty this biography displaces all earlier treatments of Robinson's life. All levels. Copyright 1999 American Library Association

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Library Journal Reviews 1997 March
The celebrated biographer of Langston Hughes takes advantage of privileged access to baseball pioneer and legend Robinson's private papers to paint this portrait. Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

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Library Journal Reviews 1997 October
Rampersad (literature, Princeton; coauthor, with Arthur Ashe, of Days of Grace, LJ 6/15/93) presents a penetrating characterization and thorough analysis of Jackie Robinson, the first black to play major league baseball. Drawing on personal letters, interviews, research projects, archival materials from the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and input from Robinson's widow, Rachel, he reveals Robinson as a boy, man, athlete, husband, father, pioneer, community leader, businessman, and Civil Rights activist. "Jackie underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim," the author writes. Though well researched, with some vintage photographs, the book lacks standard footnotes and bibliographical references. Still, this work supplements recent biographies by Maury Allen (Great Time Coming, LJ 11/15/94) and Rachel Robinson (Jackie Robinson, LJ 11/1/96). Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Edward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast, Long Beach Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1997 September #5
In capturing the life of trailblazing black majorleaguer Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), Rampersad (coauthor with Arthur Ashe of Days of Grace) has found a subject to match his considerable talents as a biographer. Rampersad is the first biographer to be given complete access to Robinson's papers, and his book is a thoroughly researched, gracefully written and vividly told story of one of the country's most gifted, courageous athletes, not only in integrating professional baseball but also in dealing with his stardom and breaking racial barriers in college football, basketball and track at Pasadena Junior College and at UCLA. Robinson was born in rural Georgia, where his mother's family had owned land since the 1870s. His philandering father abandoned the family, and his mother moved with her children to Pasadena, Calif., in 1920, where Jackie and his brother, Mack, also a world-class athlete, began their athletic careers. Rampersad details the influence of Jackie's mother on his principles; his earnest religious devotion; his chaste courtship of his future wife, Rachel (and her own considerable talents as a mother, nurse and hospital administrator and, eventually, as manager of her husband's real estate firm); his military service; and his dissatisfaction with the conditions of Negro league baseball in the 1930s. The second baseman's relationship with Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey, architect of his historic challenge to baseball's racial barrier, is well documented, and most significantly, detailed coverage is given to Robinson's transition from superstar baseball player to businessman and passionate civil rights leader. His unprecedented influence continued in politics as a pioneering black power-broker in the presidential campaigns of Eisenhower, Nixon and Rockefeller. Rampersad also writes of Robinson's baseball prowess, re-creating some of the most exciting pennant races ever. Photos. 200,000 first printing; BOMC selection. (Oct.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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