A couple of items have been knocked off the old reading list lately. First up was an audio book:
“A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918”
My knowledge of World War I has always been rather sketchy, so this book helped fill some holes in the general knowledge base. It was very good at pulling together many of the strands that led to war in the first place. There was also good detail on the first few years of the war and interesting background on many of the major participants, both institutions and individuals. The author seemed to be in a hurry to finish, however. The years 1917 and 1918 and the long-term effects of the war did not receive nearly as much coverage as the earlier years of the war, or so it seemed to me. That’s one of the problems with audio books: hard to objectively measure the relative heft devoted particular subjects or time periods. No accounting for what might have been slept through.
Another shortcoming of the audio format, particularly with a book of this type, is the inability to refer to maps, charts, pictures and other graphics. I found a website “40 Maps that Explain World War I” as a good visual aid; also regular supplementation through Wikipedia helps round out the overall experience.
Next up was:
The author spends quite a bit of time exploding many of the myths surrounding Cobb: he was a virulent racist; his teammates and all the other players hated him; he sharpened his spikes and tried to terrorize opponents at every chance. The author assigns a lot of the blame to a hack that wrote a couple of Cobb biographies that sensationalized (or flat out lied about) many of the unflattering stories. In this portrait we see a superb athlete with a unique approach to the game, supremely confident and unabashed about pushing the boundaries of what a base ball player was expected to be at that time. Cobb was quite a cerebral fellow, an insatiable reader, a devotee of classical music and theater. The author ascribes the “racist” persona to a large extent based on the time and place of his birth: Georgia in the 1880s. In fact, several notable ancestors were abolitionists and his father once stopped a lynching. Ty himself played often with black players during exhibitions and was a supporter of Jackie Robinson’s entry to the game, in fact had suggested integration of the game years before the realization. I recommend this to anyone interested in a well-researched alternative to the “narrative” that has so long existed about Cobb.
It was particularly interesting to me to get a feel for what the game was like in those years of 1905 to the late 20s. Early in his career, none of the current major league ballparks were in existence. He played at places like Bennett Park (named after a Tigers catcher), South Side Park III, Hilltop Park and the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds. He had to contend with: spitballs and scuff balls and balls that might be in play for innings at a time without replacement; games with only 1 umpire and games called on account of darkness; fields with no outfield fences with fans standing on the field (and fans with little compunction about hurling bottles or other items at the fielders). The pace of the game was so much faster. There was a game played at the end of a season with non-contending teams. The score was 9-5 and was played in an hour and 6 minutes. As another example, the average game time of all complete major league games played on April 21, 1915 was 1 hour and 51 minutes. The gloves were tiny, the field conditions were often terrible and the players were treated as indentured servants by the owners. But Ty Cobb prospered. He died a multi millionaire in 1961, thanks to early investments in GM and Coca-Cola.
Just now starting:
I really enjoyed visiting the LBJ Presidential Library a couple of years ago. Such a legendary politician and larger than life character. Looking forward to this. I also just started a video class from The Great Courses on the history of the Supreme Court