Jeff Pearlman came on my radar a few years ago with his excellent book on the history of the first edition of United States Football League. That made me want to read more of his books and while I have read a few of his earlier works, this is his most recent and so far one of his best. Here is my review of his book on Bo Jackson, "The Last Folk Hero."
“The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson” by Jeff Pearlman
5 of 5 stars (excellent)
Whenever an athlete can compete at the highest level in two (or more) sports, it is a very noteworthy accomplishment. When that athlete can do certain feats that even most stars in that particular sport only dream of accomplishing, that is when stories of incredible feats are told and passed down through the years. Vincent “Bo” Jackson is one of those athletes in which this was accomplished, and his story is told in this excellent book by Jeff Pearlman
Pearlman has made a very good career on writing sports biographies of famous athletes who may have a flaw or two, but has had either outstanding success in their sport, some great stories to share, a compelling story on the way to fame or, in Jackson’s case, a bit of all three traits. The “great stories” are feats of amazing athleticism by Jackson shared by those who have claimed to have seen them. This goes from his youth to high school sports (track and field as well as baseball and football) to college sports at Auburn (again, all three, although his fame there was for football) to the professional ranks. Because many of these stories have a “you have to see it to believe it” aura, that was the inspiration for the title which is very appropriate.
The book also does an excellent job of portraying Jackson’s life and personality without the benefit of input directly from him. Pearlman does write that he did contact Jackson about the project and certainly wanted to talk to him, but Jackson declined. However, he did not give Pearlman any objections to writing the book, so the author went ahead and between his research and over 700 interviews, he ended up with a very entertaining and detailed book.
Among these details are plenty of discussion about Jackson’s accomplishments at Auburn, the NFL with the Los Angeles Raiders and in major league baseball, primarily with the Kansas City Royals, but he also spent some time with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels. He suffered a devastating hip injury that required a hip replacement and given the medical knowledge at the time, it was considered a near-miracle that he was able to resume his baseball career (his football career was not resurrected) with the White Sox. Mainly because his football career, especially with the Raiders, was shortened due to the injury, more of the sports accomplishments described are in baseball. That doesn’t diminish either the writing about nor the stories telling about Jackson’s feats in that sport as well as track and field.
There is plenty of text about Bo off the field as well. Of course, the “Bo Knows” campaign by Nike is covered and that is quite entertaining as well as informative. The feeling of Bo being used for business purposes is not unique to him, but his views (as told by others such as teammates or friends) about team owners such as Hugh Culverhouse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ewing Kaufman of the Royals was very interesting. Jackson’s personality also makes for interesting reading. The easiest way to describe it would be complex as many people of all types of relationships with him have stories to share and they range from him getting very angry at people for seemingly minor issue to being very generous to strangers with his time, money or both. Something that is very consistent, however, is his dedication to family. This is true for both his mother and later with his wife and children. He vowed to ensure that his children did not grow up with an absent father like he did and he is keeping that promise, at least according to those who spoke to Pearlman.
This is a complete book on the man that is all the more remarkable when one considers none of this information came from Jackson himself. Any reader who “knows Bo”, no matter if it is from sports, TV commercials or some other means, will find this book one that will be hard to put down and well worth the time to read.
I wish to thank Mariner Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.