Reviews for Jackie Robinson : A Biography


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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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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