Picks and Pans Review: Jackie Robinson: a Biography
by Arnold Rampersad
With the bases loaded, two outs and the score tied in the 12th inning of a crucial game against the Philadelphia Phillies at the height of the 1951 pennant race, the Brooklyn Dodgers' second baseman leaped sideways to make an electrifying catch of a low line drive, snuffing out the rally and knocking himself briefly unconscious. Years later, sportswriter Red Smith would recall Jackie Robinson "stretched at full length in the insubstantial twilight, the unconquerable doing the impossible." As Yogi Berra said, "He could beat you in a lot of ways."
Robinson's story demands eloquence. The man who fractured baseball's color line in 1947 took on daunting challenges throughout his all-too-short life (he died in 1972 at 53)—notably during World War II, when he was court-martialed (and acquitted) for his refusal to move to the back of a Texas bus. The son of a south Georgia sharecropper, Robinson ended up a nationally respected business and civic leader, and he displayed his grace, courage and stubborn dignity at every step—as well as a touching devotion, to his wife and family. But this scrupulous, readable biography by Princeton University scholar Arnold Rampersad (who previously wrote a definitive study of poet Langston Hughes) finally leaves a reader longing, not for more information, but for a more poetic perspective on Robinson's heroic life. (Knopf, $27.50)
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