“Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig” by Jonathan Eig
Baseball, history, biography, Yankees
March 29, 2005
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
Having not read a book on Lou Gehrig since middle school and wanting to learn more about the man, I picked up this book hoping to learn more about his playing career and how he dealt with the prospect of facing death. Those topics are certainly covered, but there is so much more to this book that it should be on every baseball fan’s list of books to read.
Meticulous research and superb writing make this book one of the most definitive biographies of Gehrig. The reader will learn about the man through many communications he made with doctors, his wife Eleanor and other important people in his life. The letters he exchanged with physicians at the Mayo Clinic, where his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was first diagnosed, were very moving. The same goes for his letters to Eleanor, especially the one written to her when he first learns of the disease and is optimistic that he will get better.
Gehrig went to the Mayo Clinic when he noticed how fast his baseball skills were deteriorating in 1939. Both this decline and Gehrig’s outstanding baseball career are covered by superb research and writing as well. No matter how one analyzes his career, Gehrig is one of the greatest players in the history of the game, yet Eig writes of his baseball prowess without a lot of fawning or exaggeration. The matter-of-fact style made reading about Gehrig’s accomplishments seem even more impressive.
Eig also writes about Gehrig’s personal life in a style that will keep any reader engrossed in the topic. Whether it is about his childhood in which his mother was very protective, the shy young man who did not socialize often with his Yankee teammates, or his marriage at 30 to an outspoken woman, the reader will gain insight into what made Gehrig into the man that he became.
Of course, no discussion about Gehrig can be complete without mentioning the moments that made him a legendary baseball player. Eig sets the record straight on what makes Gehrig seem larger than life. For example, the myth that Gehrig began his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played because Wally Pipp complained of a headache and was replaced by Gehrig is set straight in the book. The streak actually began the previous day when Gehrig appeared as a pinch hitter. Also, Pipp did not complain of a headache that day and instead was benched when manager Miller Huggins wanted to juggle his lineup. It doesn’t make the streak or the myth any less impressive, but Eig ensures that the correct story about the beginning of the streak is told.
It is this kind of research and writing that make this book one of the best sports biographies available. The reader will truly feel like he or she knows more about the man after reading this and will also have run through a full gamut of emotions when completing the book. One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this biography. Anyone who wants to learn the complete story of the man should read this book.
Pace of the book:
While I never was able to read large sections of this book in one sitting, it still was a fairly quick read in the total time it took me, especially considering the length of the book and some of the material, such as the medical sections describing ALS.
Do I recommend?
Readers who like baseball biographies or even biographies in general, will enjoy this book. With the in-depth research and narration about each important topic, this book should appeal to a wide range of readers. No matter how a reader has learned about Lou Gehrig, whether through baseball, the movie about his life or just word of mouth, the reader will certainly learn something new about the man.
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