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William Jessup has commented on (3) products.

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eig
Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

William Jessup, January 1, 2010

Jonathan Eig's Luckiest Man is the heartbreaking, but uplifting biography of Lou Gehrig. Eig does a fine job of transporting the reader to the New York of the twenties and thirties. He takes him into the rough and tumble immigrant neighborhood in which the young Gehrig learned to love baseball. Eig does a fine job of comparing the modern game to the “small ball” game, which Babe Ruth changed (but not single-handedly) with the home run.

Eig argues convincingly that, of the two Yankee greats, Gehrig was the more complete player. Simply stated, he was the game’s best first baseman. Even more impressive than his enormous talent, however, was his courage and his modesty. Eig introduces us to a wonderful American who, just by being himself, made his teammates and friends better people.

The reader should recognize that the book’s subtitle is “The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.” After having started to read this well researched book, there were times when I wanted to stop. That reaction is not a criticism, but a tribute to Eig’s ability to decipher ALS, the progressively debilitating disease that now bears the hero’s name. Eig anticipates the reader’s questions and answers them, employing the comments of Gehrig’s teammates, physicians and friends. Because this book tested my own “intestinal fortitude,” I could not put it down. It is a most rewarding read.
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Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania by Warren St. John
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania

William Jessup, September 10, 2007

As a lifelong Georgia Bulldog fan, I felt no compulsion to read what I figured must be another Alabama fan's maudlin tribute to the faded, glory days of Bear Bryant's domination of the Southeastern Conference. When a Bulldog buddy of mine recommended Warren St. John's rib-tickling Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania, however, I had to acknowledge the impatience with which I had initially dismissed this hilarious and informative study, in which both Bama boosters and fans of its opponents will take delight.

With some surprise, students of anthropology will also appreciate the two (or more) cultural worlds that St. John has learned to stride with a progressive, though seemingly effortless, adaptation. An Alabama native, St. John graduated from Columbia University, in New York City. To become an accomplished writer for the New York Times, he has had to put career pursuits before his affection for his favorite team. This is precisely what several objects of his study have gone to extravagant and often riotous lengths not to do. In his heart, however, the author-narrator has lost neither his love for, nor his identity with, the army of fans (and alumni) that is the "Crimson Tide Nation."

In that regard, St. John resembles any devoted fan of any the powers of college football’s Division I. Almost every member of that club would confess to the delight with which he succumbs to the near mystical spell that his school's annually- reconfigured teams cast over his life. St. John differs from his colleagues most pointedly, however, when he decides to take a sabbatical from his work and put the source of his pride and devotion under his reporter's microscope, in an effort to discover what compels so many of his fellow devotees to order and reorder their lives to realize the top priority of attending every Alabama home and road game.

To do so, he decides to follow one Bama team through an entire season, as if he were covering the games for a newspaper that might depend on the patronage of the faithful, but also was brave enough to investigate and expose irregularities in the team's (and college's) fabric. To achieve that purpose, he joins the "Tide Nation's" sizeable regiment of recreational vehicle (RV) owners, which deploys to the highways each Wednesday or Thursday and drives either to Tuscaloosa or Birmingham or to the road game's locale, either the opponent's home field or a third city that plays host at a supposedly neutral field.

The resulting travelogue, akin to de Toqueville’s, will delight even the most dedicated enemy of the Tide and the remnant of the dynasty that the legendary Bryant fashioned over the course of his amazingly successful career. When the author attends an early season party, at which the University annually hosts another regiment of fans, that of Bryant's namesakes, the reader may remember having read other reporter's accounts of one of the difficulties that used to plague many patriotic Alabamians. Although St. John wisely avoids revisiting the state's civil rights struggles, the ever-increasing legion of Bryant’s namesakes, of various races, serves to explain how it would have been easier to name a son after the Bear than, for example, George Wallace.

To boot, the book serves as a primer for anyone not yet disabused of the thought of joining the aforementioned Alabama road regiment. As St. John points out, the typical RV owner's two happiest days are the ones on which he buys and sells his RV! In the meantime, necessity forces him to adapt to, and invent innumerable ways to redress, a series of calamitous discomforts and breakdowns, which even the most enthusiastic "road warrior" must inevitably attribute to the curse of Auburn fans or that of any one of several other opponents that have enjoyed little or no success against the Tide.

New Yorkers who still wear socks with sandals, disparage grits, and cannot remember that the contraction "y'all" cannot be used to refer to one individual will (nevertheless) enjoy this book. (After all, they have declared futile any attempt to understand their own cab drivers, whose innumerable dialects could surely pose no greater problems than those that roll off the tongues of the East Tennessee plowboy and the Ninth Ward refugee.) Southerners who cannot imagine any reason to venture north of Lexington will find a particularly revealing pleasure in this book. It simultaneously justifies and undermines the regional cultural prejudices peculiar both to the indolent Yankee redneck and the industrious Southern professional. In short, fans of the uniquely American world of college football and of the broad diversity of their fellow fans' lifestyles will read this book and laugh hysterically at themselves and each other.

Best wishes, W. E. Jessup
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(3 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)

Oregon My Oregon by Ray Atkeson
Oregon My Oregon

William Jessup, December 25, 2006

Dear Powell's Books:

My friends know of my love of the works of Ray Atkeson. From Crater Lake to the Wallowas, and from the Blue Mountains to the Three Sisters to Astoria, Mr. Atkeson's works justify the Oregonian's belief that his state's natural wonders best exemplify the motto "America the Beautiful." This book and those in his "Oregon" series contain many of his spellbinding photos.

Anyone who has viewed Mr. Atkeson's shots of the Columbia River Gorge would not dispute the belief that the good Lord ended his sixth day's work there. After having set free the mighty Columbia River and watching it carve its broad ribbon, He must have seen that it, indeed, was good.

Back in 1988, I lived in Portland and became familiar with the wonderful photographs of Oregon's "Photographer Laureate." When I wanted to obtain a copy of one of his shots of Mt. Hood, framed by a beautiful explosion of pink, white and purple rhododendron clusters, I pulled down a copy of the Portland telephone directory and found Mr. Atkeson's listing. When he answered my call, he could not have been more approachable and gracious. He told me that he feared that his licensing agreement with the postcard publisher might prevent him from selling me a copy of the shot, which I wanted to frame and hang on my office wall. Although his reservation proved prophetic, our conversation enriched me.

Today whenever I want to plan a vacation trip to Oregon, I turn again to Mr. Atkeson's shots and wrestle with planning my itinerary and trying to decide where to spend my valuable days and nights. Like the good Lord's creations that they celebrate, Mr. Atkeson's spectacular works richly deserve the praise that so many photographers and naturalists have lavished upon them.

With best wishes, I am...

Yours truly,

W. E. Jessup
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(15 of 17 readers found this comment helpful)

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